Space Camp 2018

Jul 3, 2018

June saw the launch of ‘Space Camp’- a project designed by hi-impact consultancy in partnership with Air Products UK

We are no strangers to pushing the boundaries and stretching ourselves at hi-impact. This is how we’ve grown from a small provider of workshops to local schools to working with more than 25,000 children every year and employing a team of consultants, technicians and media specialists who work all across Europe. Our latest project, however, has taken things to a whole new level!

Last week was the culmination of months of planning for one of our most ambitious undertakings yet.. Our partners and suppliers, Air Products UK, approached us last year to ask for ideas for something big to help them celebrate their 60th anniversary with the proviso that it engaged schools in their key UK areas of Manchester, Hull and Didcot. I hate the phrase “Blue Sky Meeting” but in this case it seems very apt as during our first meeting about the project, Georgia from our media team jokingly suggested we host a residential trip for children and theme the workshop contents around the Space Sciences. After a few moments of humouring this idea, it soon became apparent that it could work – get 60 children from around the UK to descend upon a campsite, invite experts in various scientific fields to work alongside our own educators and deliver a series of exciting and exclusive sessions, building up to the launch of high altitude weather balloons carrying payloads of cameras, tracking equipment, science experiments and sensors. This is how Space Camp was born.
 
 
Putting on a residential trip is very different to our usual projects, which are either half day or full day workshops, or at the very most themed weeks in a school with various workshops all delivered by our own staff. Logistically, getting 60 children and their teachers from 6 schools all over the country to come together in one place for 5 days was a challenge to say the least – even when their costs were covered by the event sponsors, Air Products. Getting schools to release staff, choose children, provide dietary requirements and arrange transport was not easy, and that’s on top of trying to cater for them all ourselves, meet health and safety guidelines, designing a course programme for the week and bringing in exciting experts to supplement hi-impact and Air Products content. I don’t think any of us enjoyed the planning for this event, but thanks to a great team effort things began to fall into place.
 
In the weeks leading up to Space Camp, each school had received in-house workshops from hi-impact staff. One of our long established friends and collaborators, Dr Steve Croft from UC Berkeley in California skyped the children during their school workshops, bringing them his experience as an astrophysicists and describing his work with SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence). This was to ensure that more children than just those attending the camp would benefit from the project. Weather balloons were tethered over each school, science workshops were delivered and the excitement began to build for the camp itself.
 
Our team worked hard: Alan C designed a full and varied programme of activities, working with some esteemed guests to ensure the children were never bored, had plenty of downtime to enjoy being away from school and home on a picturesque site, and would come away feeling that they had been a part of something very special. Alan T visited the wholesalers almost daily in the run up to the week, bulk buying breakfast, lunch and dinner supplies for 90 odd people for every day of the camp – as well as liaising with a local pizzeria to supply masses of pizzas and chips for a treat night! Hi-impact staff who were there to fulfil teaching or media roles (Jo, Bob, Gareth and Georgia) all helped with general camp duties as well as their specialist jobs – often from very early in the morning through to the early hours of the next day (and occasionally in the middle of the night on site security patrols). It was full on – 5 days (and nights) of constant hard work with very few opportunities to break or sleep!
 
 
From the moment that schools began arriving we somehow just knew that it was going to be a success. Schools set up their own little mini camps on our private field, some decorating with lights or bunting. Children mixed with others from different regions, backgrounds and beliefs – playing football, frisbee or just chatting and making new friends. Once Space Camp briefing was complete I think everyone knew they were in for a great week.
 
Every day began with “Rise n’ Shine”, which varied from invigorating marching to team competitions in fun activities to wake everyone up (whether they liked it or not!) Breakfast and wash routines followed, before a morning carousel of workshops. During breaks and lunchtimes, children played, chatted to our experts or visited the tuck shop, which hi-impact staff ran. Afternoons saw more workshops, a different type of meal every day and then an evening session to finish things off before lights out and settling down in our tents for some well-earned sleep.
We were very lucky to be able to use some high profile connections of our sponsors as well as some of our own collaborators to bring in outstanding guest speakers and demonstrators throughout the week. People like  Dr Megan Argo, a lecturer at UCLan, the Shropshire Astronomical Society, Carlos Maline from the RAF, Mark Thompson from BBC’s Stargazing Live and the One Show and Dr Jackie Bell a particle Physicist and hopeful future Astronaut. As a special bonus for those attending, Dr Croft was flown in for the entire week and became our resident scientist, mucking in with camp chores as well as running workshops and being an ever-present expert for the children to call upon at any time. Added to hi-impact consultants and Air Products’ own demonstrators, these inspirational people meant that our children received an experience and opportunity unlike anything previously offered to this age group in this country – possibly the world. Children learnt about programming Raspberry Pi SENSEHats, ping pong science experiments, Martian geography, the night sky, radio telescopes, pneumatic rockets, liquid nitrogen, space travel, predicting high altitude balloon flights and much more – what an experience!
 
My own role aside from helping with the general arrangements and logistics was to make sure Thursday’s “Space Balloon” launches went off without a hitch. Helium was arranged with our sponsors, Air Products, and we had to order in parachutes, rope, payload boxes and reels of tape, ping pong balls for mini science experiments, RaspberryPi computers and a variety of sensors to attach to them, GPS tracking devices, GoPro cameras and of course, the balloons themselves. We had spares for EVERYTHING – one thing we have learnt over the past 6 years of launching weather balloons with schools is that you have a backup for every eventuality – extra helium, spare balloons and more rope and tape than you could ever possibly use!
 
 

Fortunately, we are well versed at hi-impact in the launching of these giant balloon-based experiments and we managed to set all three off within 60 minutes despite high winds playing havoc with the inflation and contending with an Air Ambulance formation flight going directly overhead (we always obtain Civil Aviation Authority permission ahead of launches, so the Air Ambulance were fully aware of our plans and liaised closely with us on the phone to avoid any problems). After a lengthy journey deep into Gloucestershire from our base in Mid Wales, all 3 chase teams located their payloads and reconvened back at the site in time for celebratory pizzas! As with all real life science experiments, things can fail and we had limited success with our Pi cameras and a failure of our 360 degree camera. Luckily our GoPros obtained high quality video footage right up to our maximum altitudes and we’re delighted with the images they’ve returned. Sensor information and altitude maps will be presented to schools soon so they can plot their balloon flights and see how temperatures varied on ascent and descent. The ping pong experiments were opened by the eager children that very same evening with Dr Croft and they got to see the effects that the Near Space journeys had had on their popcorn, jelly, tomato seeds or other assorted objects! Mission complete.

Written by Simon Sloan, Operations Manager, hi-impact consultancy