Hundreds of young science explorers put their girl power skills to the test Saturday and created samples of a spacesuit equipped with meteorite protection, built architectural models made from food and programmed Lego robots to follow commands.
“Engineering isn’t just a man’s job,” said Akilah Turner, 14, of Baton Rouge, who designed a robotic program.
Turner and 500 other girls in grades five through eight surveyed the world of science in Patrick F. Taylor Hall on the LSU campus during the Sally Ride Science Festival presented by Exxon Mobil Corp.
“These lessons engage them and it piques their interest in science and engineering,” said Jason Devillier, who led the robotics workshop.
An outdoor street fair featured music and food and hands-on science workshops provided students with lessons in planetary science, astronomy, physics, environmental studies, geology and the ecosystem.
“It’s a good feeling to be here and to see so many female engineers and scientists,” said Turner, who wants to become a chemical engineer one day.
Keynote speaker and former NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence, who wore a blue flight suit, talked about her career and her journeys into space.
“At 10 years old, it was my dream to be an astronaut,” she said. “I got to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.”
Naysayers at times discouraged her from pursuing her dream, telling her that she was not smart enough to be an astronaut, she told students.
“Don’t let people tell you that you’re not good enough,” Lawrence said. “Work hard. You all can make your dreams come true but you’ve got to follow it up with hard work.”
She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981 and then gained an assignment at the Johnson Space Center in 1992, completing four space flights before she retired in 2006.
Students asked her to describe her first flight into space.
“I looked out the window and realized how beautiful this planet was,” Lawrence said. “It was magical and better than I thought it would be.”
She challenged students in the audience to dare to be bold and figure out solutions to today’s pressing problems, such as finding cures for cancer, ways to harness the sun’s energy or predicting the next tsunami.
Living aboard a spacecraft in zero gravity was challenging and did require some patience, Lawrence told students.
Astronauts eat freeze-dried food.
To keep their bodies clean, they wipe themselves with soap and a wet washcloth. Showering is nearly impossible because the water beads up and floats.
Students grinned and smirked about bathroom procedures in space. Astronauts wear diapers during long spacewalks and their toilets employ strong, vacuum-like suction to prevent waste from floating, she said.
Sleeping in space feels similar to using a water bed, she said.
Vernisha Cotton said Lawrence’s speech was inspiring.
“She’s not afraid,” Vernisha said. “She breaks all of the stereotypes.”