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Idaho Youth Attend NASA Solar Eclipse Camp

In August 2017, hundreds of thousands of people traveled across the United States to experience a rare solar eclipse inside the path of totality.

Among them were 10 youth from the Coeur d’Alene tribe, who had the chance to experience the eclipse through the NASA Youth Solar Eclipse camp in Warm Springs, Oregon.

The camp was sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate, the Warm Springs Eclipse Project, and the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP), a collaborative K-12 education effort serving students, teachers and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Camp organizers reached out to Chris Meyer, director of education with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe Department of Education, who asked University of Idaho Extension educator Yolanda Bone to help with facilitating lessons and chaperoning the trip. Bone’s work through the UI Extension, Coeur d’Alene Reservation 4-H program made her a natural fit to organize the lessons and trip.  

“Rocketry and aerospace is a favorite here in 4-H, I think that’s why Dr. Meyer came to me,” Bone said.

On Aug. 19, 2017, the group headed to Warm Springs for two days of space- and STEM-based activities prior to the Aug. 21 eclipse. Activities included LEGO robotics, star gazing, workshops geared toward aerospace and rocketry, and a planetarium.

Payload Launch

During the camp, the students also constructed a payload that was sent into the atmosphere with high-altitude balloons during the eclipse.

Four balloons with payloads were launched during the eclipse, reaching altitudes of 110,000 feet. Cameras and GPS trackers on the devices captured a unique perspective of the eclipse. After two and a half hours, the balloons popped, and parachutes allowed the payload to return safely to the ground.

“It was really neat to have the payload going up while the solar eclipse was happening,” Bone said. “There was a lot of excitement surrounding the entire thing. I don’t know who came up with the idea but it was fantastic for the kids. To get working on it as the eclipse is starting, launching it and doing a countdown.”

For their payload, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe youth made a dream catcher, which consisted of feathers and 10 beads to signify each youth, and an additional five beads to represent the chaperones. Tom and Laura Reece, Native Youth Community Project coordinators; Ernie Campbell, Coeur d’Alene Tribe elder and tribe teen mentor Taidyn Daniels helped Bone serve as chaperones for the trip.

The team worked with NASA volunteers and youth from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to finalize their payload and prepare it for launch. The Warm Springs youth were responsible for the balancing portion of the payload and constructed a medicine wheel.

“They had to be thoughtful about it because it couldn’t be super heavy, or it would drag and wouldn’t carry to its full potential,” Bone said.

Youth from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe prepare and launch their balloon and payload into space during the solar eclipse.

A Science Spark

The eclipse camp helped the students gain an interest in science, Bone said.

“Even at a very basic level of experiencing this and being in a positive atmosphere around other kids that were excited about science, it really sparked their interest,” Bone said. “I have one kid that is talking about being an engineer now. I have three others at the tribal school who have joined my advanced robotics group.”

Bone is hoping to coordinate a trip to Ellensburg, Washington, in June to take the students to a social gathering and powwow that is being coordinated by a local tribe that will include rocketry deployment and other hands-on STEM activities.

“I think the sky is the limit for the kids here, and I want them to see their potential,” Bone said.

Photos and video provided by Erv Schleurfer, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Member

Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Published in June 2018.

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Barbara Petty