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A Weilenmann project blasts off

Students design sustainable spaceships

From left Weilenmann School of Discovery teacher Laura England stands with students Callie Droitsch, Skylar Rybarczyk, Sophia Wakefield and Lucas Zagal. The students are among those participating in a weeks-long project centered around sustainability.
(Bubba Brown/Park Record)

Earth has been degraded to the point it’s no longer habitable for human life.

That’s the fictional set-up for a project seventh-graders at Weilenmann School of Discovery are immersing themselves in during December and January. Their task? Ensure the survival of the human race by designing a spaceship that can sustain life for 6,000 years using existing technology.

Laura England, who teaches career and technical education at the school and devised the assignment, said the project is designed to teach the students about sustainability as it relates to environmental, social and economic issues.

The students will have to demonstrate how the spaceship will provide oxygen, water and food for its inhabitants, as well as get rid of their waste. They also have to show how society on the ship will function to ensure the happiness, safety and health of travelers. At the end of the project, the students will have to provide a 3-D model or a drawing of their spaceship.

England said the students, intrigued by the task, quickly plunged into the assignment.

“I’ve already had them doing very difficult math, trying to figure out how much water they should bring and all of those things,” she said.

While the technology the students must use to design their spaceships must currently exist, the prospect of a real-life vessel that could sustain life for six millennia in space remains far-fetched. England said she designed the assignment that way to push the students to dream big and explore further.

But it also forces them to think small — about their own impact on the environment and what kind of planet they want to leave for their grandchildren’s grandchildren

“One class, it seemed like the thing 50 percent of the class wanted to leave behind was skiing,” she said. “So we talked about how that is all three pillars of sustainability — social, economic and environmental — and we talked about how Park City may be affected by climate change.”

For their part, the students are enjoying digging into issues surrounding sustainability and trying to wrap their minds around the spaceship project.

One student, Callie Droitsch, said she’s already learned a lot by researching the project. For instance, she discovered that NASA has developed technology that can eliminate waste by boiling it. She’s planning on including that technology in her spaceship.

“It’s been really interesting to learn about how different things can be sustained,” she said, “and how we can develop technologies to create more environmentally friendly things.”


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