Kuhio School fourth-grader Leo Fernandez tried out the Zero Blaster last night during Ellison Onizuka Family Night at the school. The fog ring he created is called a toroidal, or doughnut-shaped, vortex.

Isle students set
sights on the stars

The Columbia crash can't dim the dreams
of kids at an event saluting space science

By Susan Essoyan

Ten-year-old Juliet Salsedo and her brother, Jacob, 7, both know what they want to be when they grow up: astronauts.

Despite the backdrop of the Columbia tragedy, Astronaut Ellison Onizuka Family Science Night at Kuhio School sparked a roomful of imaginations yesterday, including the Salsedos'.

"That was really sad because it crashed, but I still feel like I want to be an astronaut," said Juliet, who attended with her grandmother, Connie Hookano, a 5th grade teacher at the school.

Art Kimura, program director for Future Flight Hawaii, runs the event in hopes of building interest in science through children's natural fascination with space travel. Nearly 60 families filled the cafeteria last night to hear the intimate details of an astronaut's life, like the fact that astronauts wear diapers on liftoff.

Then Kimura turned them loose on 30 experiments set up to inspire the next generation of explorers and scientists. The Salsedos balanced hangers shaped like the letter M on their heads, with clay balls anchoring each end, and spun around in circles to learn about inertia and centers of gravity.

At a nearby table, another student banged a tuning fork against a rubber block, plunged it into a basin of water, and then jumped back with a start as the water splashed up at him -- a vivid demonstration that sound is vibration.

Juliet Salsedo, 10, tried out the Nose Aerobics game last night. "Thinker" games like this one were designed for children to discuss the science principles involved.

"Science is a lot of fun," Kimura told the kids. "You need to look at all of your toys, and think about why and how they work. It's important to keep your curiosity alive."

Kimura took time at the beginning of the evening to pay tribute to Onizuka, the program's namesake and Hawaii native who perished aboard the Challenger mission 17 years ago, as well as the seven-member crew of the Columbia.

"Whether it's in space or here on earth," he said, "the important thing is to reach high."

The program, run under the auspices of the federally funded Hawaii Space Grant Consortium, is also being held this week at Kaneohe and Wailupe Valley elementary schools and La Pietra-Hawaii School for Girls.

Earlier in the day, a group of sixth graders from Mililani Middle School traveled to the Challenger Center-Hawaii program, housed at Barbers Point Elementary School, where they embarked on a two-hour mission, a "rendezvous with the Comet Halley in the year 2061."

The students had spent several weeks in class preparing for the field trip to the center, which features a mission control room and a simulated space station. They worked in teams to navigate, conduct experiments, transmit and analyze data, coping with problems along the way, according to Liane Kim, a resource teacher at the center.

And like their counterparts at Kuhio School, the kids showed no signs that the Columbia disaster had dimmed their dreams.

"I feel awful about what happened Saturday, but it won't stop me," one student wrote in a note to center staff. "I'm sure the astronauts wanted us to continue. I'm just so grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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