It IS Rocket Science! Teachers Return from Japan

It IS Rocket Science! Teachers Return from Japan

On Saturday 26th June 10 educators from six Australian states made their way to Japan for a week of professional learning in space education. The group consisted of primary and secondary teachers; teachers from rural schools; teachers experienced in on-line learning; experienced space educators and teachers keen to learn; and above all the group was open to new ideas and the opportunity to collaborate with Japanese educators.

This event was made possible thanks to funding from the Australia Japan Foundation through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the support  and generosity of the JAXA Space Education Office, and the support of the Australian Science Teachers Association, the Engineers Australia National Committee for Space Engineering and Questacon.

For a personal account from each of the participating teachers please visit their blog

Day 1: Miraikan and Tsukuba

The program started as soon as we left the airport. At Tokyo station we met Yayoi Miyagawa from the JAXA Space Education Office and then made our way to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology. At Miraikan we were met by Shuichi Fukazawa and Mayumi Arai. After working with them on the Hayabusa video link between Miraikan, Questacon and VSSEC it was great to meet them in person. Shuichi-san and Arai-san introduced us to the space exhibition, including the Hayabusa display, and discussed their efforts to engage the general public in science.

We then visited the High Tech display and saw ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative MObility). ASIMO was created at Honda's Research & Development Wako Fundamental Technical Research Center in Japan. It is the current model in a line of twelve that began in 1986.

From Miraikan the group moved to Tsukuba Space Center. After an introduction to the programs at Tsukuba we were taken on a tour of the Center. The highlight of the tour was seeing a Kibo module in the test facility, although the full scale H-IIA rocket was a close second.

Day 2: Tsukuba Space Center and Dinner at the Australian Embassy

On day two the Director of Tsukuba Space Center, Mr. Yasuhiro Kawada, welcomed the group  and presented an overview of JAXA’s space activities. The scope of their activities is very impressive!

Next Mr Oki, a remote sensing specialist at Tsukuba, presented an introduction to remote sensing and the current Japanese missions. He discussed how remote sensing is used to monitor climate change and natural disasters and some ideas for using remote sensing in the classroom. The group got a lot of ideas and everyone appreciated the high resolution satellite images of Australia.

Mr Matsuo Tetsui, presented an overview of experimenting in microgravity and the installation of the Kibo module on the International Space Station (ISS). He talked about some of the experiments the Japanese astronauts conducted on the ISS and the research this supports. After lunch it was time to do some hands-on activities. Mr. Tetsui demonstrated the drop tower JAXA takes out to schools and the group exchanged ideas for student activities. There were some great ideas being workshopped!

From Tsukuba it was a mad dash back to Tokyo and a quick change. The group scrubbed up nicely and made it to the Australian Embassy just in time. The Minister-Councellor, Mr. Richard Andrews, had brought together people from JAXA, Miraikan and others who promote collaboration in science education. There were many familiar faces and some new ones. Based on the discussions in the room there will be more exciting collaboration between Australia and Japan. It was good to finally meet Prof. Kurotani and thank her in person for all her support of the Frogs in Orbit project.

Day 3: Exploring Tokyo and moving to Kagoshima

Day three was a chance to catch our breath and do some independent exploring. Penny had arranged a lesson with her distance education students in Tasmania. Japan to Tasmania definitely counts as distance education! We had to check out of the hotel prior to the lesson so the “classroom” was moved to McDonalds. It was good to see how technology is supporting the delivery of programs to distributed groups and discuss how some of the materials we develop could be delivered in this way.

The Panasonic Technology Center was showcasing the latest in 3D technology. You could play in there for hours! The Toyota Megaweb showroom was an interesting combination of production cars and some funky prototypes.

In the afternoon we flew to Kagoshima ready for our day at Tanegashima Space Center.

Day 4: Tanegashima Space Center

The day at Tanegashima Space Center started with an early morning ferry from Kagoshima to Tanegashima island. It is easy to understand why Tanegashima is considered the most beautiful launch site in the world. The lush vegetation and rugged coastline provided stunning scenery.

We were welcomed by the Director of Kagoshima Space Center, Mr Nori Sakazume. He presented the activities at the launch complex and discussed his involvement in identifying and fixing the corrosion issues that caused the failure of H-IIA F8. It was great to hear a personal account of this engineering challenge. Next Mr Michio Kawakami, Director of Range Technology Development Office, talked about the some of the launches and and the development of the H-IIB rocket.

Then the moment we had all been waiting for....the tour of the launch facilities. Of course, that was when the heavens decided to open up, but we wouldn't be deterred!

From the launch pad we moved to a facility housing H-II rocket components. We were so privileged to be given access to these areas. To touch the components and see how complex the systems are surprised many of the teachers.

The next stop was launch control. Obviously everything was quiet but some of the controllers came to meet us and talk about working in launch control.We met so many interesting people during our trip and all of them were so generous with their time.

After lunch we toured the space museum. The space museum is an excellent representation of Japanese rocket history and has some great displays. After we had our fill of rocket science we headed back to the ferry. On the way we stopped at the site were the Portuguese landed and introduced guns to Japan.

Day 5: Kagoshima to Kyoto (Rest day)

Day five was a "rest day" to allow us to transfer from Kagoshima to Kyoto and experience the cultural side of Japan.

After a traditional Japanese lunch a group of us headed to Gion. This is a traditional area where Geisha live and train. While we were wandering through the streets a group of Maiko (trainee Geisha) left for a performance. They were like celebrities! Later we discovered just how lucky we had been to see them.

Day 6: Sagamihara Campus

We were back on the move but a Shinkansen bullet train is a great way to travel! We booked seats on the Mt Fuji side of the train but it was hidden by fog. We made our way to the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science at Sagamihara Campus. It's hard to believe we were in the same location as the Hayabusa capsule.

Dr Sakamoto took us on a tour of the space exhibition. He presented an excellent history of the Japanese space industry starting with the pencil rocket experiment and culminating in the safe return of the Hayabusa capsule. Pencil rocket was only 23cm in length but it marks the birth of the Japanese space industry. The experiment was a very elegant design and investigated the behavior of rockets. The first pencil rocket was launched on March 11, 1955. The Pencil rocket was launched horizontally from a 1.5-m-long launcher and broke through thin wire screens one after another before landing in a sand pit on the other side. The speed variations of the rockets were measured by the time difference that the pencil rockets cut through the lead wires and the orbit and spin of the rockets were measured from the location and direction on the trace of the tail wings on the screens. In recognition of this significant event in Japanese rocket history the asteroid that Hayabusa landed on was named Itokawa after the scientist that completed this experiment. Dr Sakamoto gave us a briefing on the Hayabusa mission and demonstrated the paper model he developed. This model was very impressive, the sample collection arm and targets deploy!

We then moved outside to the rocket displays. One of the rockets had been launched so it offered the extra dimension of smell. How often do you get invited to smell a display!

Our briefings continued with an overview of the Hayabusa mission from Dr Nishiyama. Dr Nishiyama designed the ion engines used on the Hayabusa probe. These engines provided significant challenges to the Hayabusa team and Dr Nishiyama described the strategies employed to get the ailing spacecraft home.

We also received a briefing on JAXA's Kimission program. This is similar to our space school programs and puts Japanese high school students in direct contact with scientists and engineers. Students are asked to design a space experiment to investigate.

After all the hard work it was time to socialise and enjoy some fresh sushi. It was great fun watching the sushi chef prepare the sushi in front of us and even better eating it. There was a great deal of laughter as the Australian teachers, Japanese students and JAXA staff got to know each other better.  Prof Kubota arrived at Sagamihara in time to join us. Prof Kubota is the co-chair of the APRSAF Space Education and Awareness Working Group and a long time supporter of space education, he was also the head of the guidance and control team for the Hayabusa mission and was in Woomera for the landing of the capsule.

Day 7: Working with the Japanese Teachers

This was our last day of the program but even though it was a Saturday there was still a full schedule. Six Japanese teachers gave up their weekend to work with us and share their experience of teaching space science.

We started with a briefing from Dr Asagi on solar radio observing. His research was fascinating and the practical demonstration he uses with students was great!!!!

The Japanese teachers presented some of their space science projects. They had some very innovative ideas, I was particularly impressed with the egg landers. They were very sophisticated and showed excellent design skills. An good example of Japanese origami skills. After the presentations the Australian and Japanese teachers exchanged ideas at a lunch hosted by JAXA. There were many business cards exchanged and plans made for connecting Australian and Japanese students. After hearing some of the ideas being discussed, I can't wait to see the materials that will be produced!

The only thing that remained was the group photo. As this IS a rocket science trip it made sense to take the group shot in front of a rocket. I was honoured to be presented with a model of the Itokawa asteroid and given the significance of Hayabusa in Australia Japan collaboration it was only natural that it should take pride of place. We only spent a day with the Japanese teachers but the group bonded very quickly.

The only thing left was to thank the JAXA Space Education Office for all their hard work  and to get everyone home. We all commented on how quickly the week had passed and how lucky we felt to be given access to the JAXA experts and facilities. The next step is to share what we learned. The group has started work on an education package based on our experiences and using the Hayabusa mission as the context. This package will be free to download from the VSSEC website when it is complete.