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Defying Gravity: Australian Kids Get a Lift From Astronaut Trainers

Helium balloons attached to cups of rice hovered in mid-air as hundreds of Australian students learned about buoyancy from some of the world's experts – an astronaut and the Raytheon workers who teach NASA explorers to spacewalk.

Helium balloons help students learn about bouyancy during Mission Astronautica.

"We need great engineers, we need great scientists, we need great mathematicians just like you guys," NASA astronaut Clay Anderson told the students via videoconference from the Raytheon-operated Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.

Anderson spoke to students at the launch of Mission Astronautica, a project developed by Questacon - Australia's National Science and Technology Center - in parternship with Raytheon Australia and NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

Mission Astronautica brings together scores of students from the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia to build and test neutrally buoyant objects.

They will get advice from workers at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which trains astronauts for spacewalks using one of the world's largest swimming pools and a full-scale mock-up of the international space station. Training underwater simulates the effects of zero gravity.

An astronaut prepares to experience the effects of zero gravity at the Raytheon-run Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

During Mission Astronautica, classes will be able to brainstorm ideas about buoyancy, solve problems and share experiences in real time using the resources of Questacon's digital studio in Canberra. Raytheon began sponsoring Questacon in 2007.

"The main thing we need to focus on with kids today is science, technology, engineering and math," Anderson said. "The idea of doing a project where they build something, work in teams and have success, that is huge to excite kids."

In late September, each school will present their projects to the buoyancy lab engineers via videoconference.

"I reckon this challenge will be fun -- playing around with the concepts and seeing what happens," said Xavier, a student from Karabar High School in New South Wales.

Mission Astronautica brings together students to build and test neutrally buoyant objects.

Published: 10/28/2014

Last Updated: 06/12/2015

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