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Space Shuttle Software Advances UB Student Group's Community Service Mission

By Erin Maynard

Release Date: March 2, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. Simulated missions to space have recently begun launching from Jarvis Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus, thanks to a donation from Exciting Simulations to the UB chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UB-SEDS). The company has donated its "Space Shuttle Mission Simulator" as part of its effort to expand educational opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering or math-related (STEM) programs.

In this case, the educational opportunities won't end with students at UB. Twice a month, members of UB-SEDS use hands-on activities to educate and inspire school-aged space buffs at the Buffalo Science Museum as part of the museum's public science educational programs. Traditionally, the UB students have used "Moon Craters," small projectiles that replicate crater formation, and homemade "Rocket Balloons," balloons propelled on strings, to interest students in astronomy and space flight. Now club members will be incorporating the new software into their demonstrations at the museum.

The space simulator replicates many aspects of a real mission to outer space, from external tank separation to the capture of satellites. It also features multiple missions, including several that allow players to dock at the international space station. From take- off to landing at either Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base, each simulation can take a player several days to complete, just like authentic flights. For the museum programs, aspiring astronauts will focus only on certain aspects of a mission, such as participating in a space walk or reentering Earth's atmosphere.

Andrew Dianetti, a junior aerospace engineering major in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and UB-SEDS president, hopes that the flight simulation will help spark an interest in space exploration in the younger students that the club is reaching out to at the museum.

"We used the shuttle simulator for the first time last weekend and it was a huge hit," Dianetti said. "We set it up with a joystick and projector, and everyone, from young kids to parents and grandparents, stopped by to try it out. It fostered a lot of discussion about space and spaceflight as well, which was awesome, as that is one of our goals. It easily was our most popular activity."

UB-SEDS also will bring its hands-on demonstrations and simulator software to youngsters at the Strong National Museum of Play during its annual "In Another Galaxy Weekend, "April 28 and 29, when the museum is devoted to all things Star Wars.

UB-SEDS outreach drives STEM education advancement by following the National Academies' suggestions to improve 21st-century competiveness. A September 2010 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology noted the importance of "individualized and group experiences outside the classroom" in helping to "develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM fields." The volunteer activities of the UB-SEDS club help to cement these connections by inspiring future astronauts, engineers and astrophysicists from the Western New York region.