The After Glow

Am I glowing? I sure feel like I am! No not the glistening of the oils on my face from the Houston humidity…I have just spent 10 days with greatness. I have a bond now with 40+ strangers that many will not understand, including family and friends. I feel like the kids from Stand By Me or The Sandlot. (Yes, those are movies of the age I feel- 13 yo). We all experienced something that binds us.

I was overwhelmed with emotions this week. Many thoughts have been in my head about my recent experience. This has been the most exciting week of my life. Yes the birth of my kids was great…but painful and I had drugs with that. This wasn’t painful and I still had drugs (And this experience didn’t leave me losing sleep for the next year… darn you Maggie, you didn’t sleep for 4 months, don’t you know my bed time is 9 pm).

I prepared for 2 months for the zero g flight. Most of that time I concentrated on the project, not the flight. It really wasn’t until the week we were to travel down to Texas that I started thinking about the actual flight. I wasn’t worried about puking. I’m not sure why. I felt confident all week. However, what sent me into a bit of a spin, was we ‘might’ have a special guest, astronaut Leland Melvin. How I love to meet and associate with greatness. Then what really knocked me for a loop, the last space shuttle was landing. Ok but it was going to be the day before we got there. THEN we were told they were having a welcoming ceremony, RIGHT IN THE HANGER WHERE WE WERE WORKING ON OUR PROJECTS. Rats, that meant we had less time to work on our project… oh wait that means we get to see them and the ceremony!!!! Again, I can’t emphasize how emotional this whole experience has been. It is overwhelming to go and relive it. I start to cry typing about it. Then compose myself. Then I really get knocked to reality when no one around me understands.

I have always been interested in science and space. I even became a science teacher. Last year when I heard about the other ACTS teachers going on the Weightless Wonder, I thought I wish that was me. Then I heard maybe the 2nd year ACTS teachers might go next year, I was thrilled. But Andrew Zwicker, the Director of Science Education at PPPL, was cautious about it. It was a maybe. I spoke to Andrew through out the school year and it was looking promising until ACTS was canceled. I was devastated for ACTS and for my opportunity to fly in Zero-g. Andrew still had something else up his sleeve. He did have a partnership with DOE and NASA. I was lucky enough to be asked to join a mixed schoolteacher group as a team for the flight. It was almost a hard sell believe it or not to my husband. I would need to go to the lab which was about 40 miles one way with out being paid or more importantly these days, with out money for travel. Yes it wasn’t a paying job, yes DOE would pay $4k for me to go, and yes it would be an experience of a lifetime. How could I think twice about it?

I met with the other teachers at the beginning of May. We then had to come up with common times for the 6 of us to meet. That was near impossible. So we met via phone conference at 6:30 am on the way to work three different times. One of our teammates also during this process had his mom pass away. We really had some obstacles to overcome just in preparing our experiment. Most of us were about a 20-minute ride from the lab and I was a 50-minute ride from the lab. Most of us had after school commitments.

So we really did not get started building our experiment until July. Alison Miller and I smoked the power supply. That was scary. What is that smell…. And smoke. Don’t touch it! Too late, Alison pulled it out of the outlet. She lives to tell about it.
We had constrains from the glove box. That didn’t seem like a big deal until the ‘glove’ part of the box. We then realized we could only manipulate the experiment from two sides. It was not easy to do. Even the day before pack up and ship out to Houston did we realize we would not be able to turn on one of the cameras that we had. John DeLooper, our mentor, devised an arm to move the camera. I love teamwork.

Cowboy Code of Ethics

1 Live each day with courage

2 Take pride in your work

3 Always finish what you start

4 Do what has to be done

5 Be tough, but fair

6 When you make a promise, keep it

7 Ride for the brand

8 Talk less and say more

9 Remember that some things aren’t for sale

10 Know where to draw the line

What I didn’t realize was that we were using the experimental design process, because I don’t teach it the way I was now using it. I am so used to being ridged, using each step in order. But I really was using the design process; I was using it, applying it, not just teaching it. How different I will teach it now. John DeLooper, our mentor, was a great leader. He delegated our jobs with our input; he also worked on the project when we couldn’t. Darrell Williams and I had plasma camp. Albeit fun, it took time when we felt we could or should be doing stuff with the project. Luckily our other teammate, Nick Guilbert ran the camp. He understood if we needed to work on our project (ok we didn’t really tell him).

I have always been patriotic and nostalgic about anything red, white and blue. So thinking about being at the welcome home ceremony for the STS-135 crew made me speechless. I cried when the crew walked on stage and when they played the National Anthem. However, to hear the crew speak, it was just inspirational. Commander Craig Ferguson thanked his family for their support and how important his wife has been through his journey. It just made me realize, he is a regular guy. Sort of. He just was in charge of the last space shuttle mission ever.

One of the most dreaded parts of this trip was the professional development, curriculum writing, really Andrew? Well, after getting over that, it was a great opportunity to actually work on how to show our students our experience. But that wasn’t the best part. The better part of this, turned out to be choosing another group’s project and use that one to use in our classroom. I wish now we had more time to view the second part of that workshop for a longer time. I needed more time to visit the other groups’ projects and hopefully we will have documents on that in the cloud for us to look at on our own. Not only did the workshop go to 4pm, it actually went into overtime and no one knew it! Or maybe that was just me.

I could have done with out trying on multiple flight suits but it fit better than I thought. Getting our name tag made me proud. NASA and Patricia Hillyer, perfect together.

The first parabola was given the one-minute warning. I lay down. I kept looking at the monitor, 1.0, 1.1, 1.3… all the way up to 1.8g; I felt the heaviness of the pull up of the parabola. I took deep breaths. I felt like someone put an anvil on my chest. But I took the deep breaths. Then the anvil was lifted. Something made me sit up and then stand. The first time l was lifted up was crazy. At first I was like, it will be really hard to lift me up. Then it happened. It was like I was being pulled up into the air and I had no way to stop it. I was kicking as if to swim, they tell you not to, I did. I was out of control. I couldn’t put my feet down, I couldn’t hold on to anything because I couldn’t reach anything. So I started to float over our glove box… I couldn’t stop myself. Of course the blue suit yelled at me to not do that again. I said to her I didn’t mean to do it and I just didn’t know how I did it in the first place. I wish I could say I did that on purpose…I wish I had control over what I was doing. You know how much teachers like to be in control! So I felt good, so I wanted to have one of the blue suits turn me. He told me to lie down and get into a ball on the floor. I did and rose up and he started to turn me. I was doing summersaults in zero-g, wholly crap! It was awesome. I didn’t feel disoriented. I didn’t feel confused, I felt normal only the scenery was changing, people were upside down and right side up and it seemed ‘normal’ whatever normal is at this point.

Once half the team went on Tuesday, I being one of them, I couldn’t wait for the other half to go! I was so excited for them. Alison lost sleep that night. She did say why did she ever lose sleep it was just a fun experience, no worries.

Then we spent sometime worrying about our challenge. Eh, why worry. Ok it was the day before it was due. Sue took the challenge over. She worked very well with changing words to common fun songs. Songs everyone would know. Alison suggested a campfire sing-along… then the s’mores came out and almost the rest is history. Except for the part where the astronaut comes in, literally. Yes I take credit for that. Knowing that Leland Melvin is ‘into’ education…I was pretty sure he would accommodate our request to sing with us. Everyone wants to feel included. Everyone likes to be fed. Everyone likes participation, maybe not put on the spot but they like to participate.  I would say we rocked the house, at least up until that point!

Here are our songs:

Fly Zero-G
To the tune of Home on the Range
Oh, give us our meds
For our dizzying heads
So we can fly and not worry or puke.
Where our teams never late
And our projects- just great
And our data is accurately clear.
Fly, Fly Zero-G
Where we’ll float and then we will spin
With bubbles galore
Coils, springs and much more
And we’re ready to do this again!
We’ve Been Working on Our Project
To the tune of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
We’ve been working on our project
All the month of June.
We’ve been working on our project
And hope to test it soon.
Can’t you see the weightless wonder
Rise up toward the sky?
Can’t you hear the Space Cowboys,
“We’re floating, my oh my?”
Cowboys don’t you blow
Cowboys don’t you blow
Cowboys don’t you blow your lunch lunch lunch.
Cowboys don’t you blow
Cowboys don’t you blow
Cowboys don’t you blow your lunch lunch lunch.
Sheriff don’t you blow
Sheriff don’t you blow
Sheriff don’t you blow your lunch lunch lunch
Someone’s filming our project
Someone’s moving the springs, the spring
Someone’s filming our project
Watch the bubbles and the swing.
Fly, Fly, Fly Away
To the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat
The lyrics have often been used as a metaphor for life’s difficult choices, and many see the boat as referring to one’s self or a group with which one identifies.[2] Rowing is a skillful, if tedious, practice that takes perfection but also directs the vessel.[3] When sung as a group, the act of rowing becomes a unifier, as oars should be in sync for the progression of a rowboat. The idea that human beings travel along a certain stream [time] and suggests boundaries in the path of choices and in free will.[4] The third line recommends that challenges should be greeted in stride while open to joy with a smile.[5] The final line, “life is but a dream”, is perhaps the most meaningful. It perfectly describes our journey.
Fly, fly, fly away
And float in zero –g
Using experimental design process
And making memories
Sheriff:      John DeLooper, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab
Deputies:   Susan Franco, Trenton Public Schools
Nick Guilbert, Peddie School
Patty Hillyer, Matawan Regional School District
Alison Miller, South Brunswick Public Schools
Darrell Williams, Ewing Public School

Link to You Tube Video Part I, Introduction to Space Cowboys

Link to You Tube Video Part II, Space Cowboys Campfire Songs

I enjoyed all my dinners with my new colleagues as well as all of the activities after dinner. I tried different things both food and drink, you know I don’t get out much. Which, kidding aside, experience and “getting out” accounts for so much. There is no substitute for doing rather than just reading about stuff. That is the difference in school. Kids who go on vacation, even educational trips, or go places, well, they know how to act and what to do. Kids who don’t go anywhere or don’t travel don’t learn how to behave or what to do it certain situations. Experience accounts for so much more than reading about it in a book or watching a movie about it.

I would do it again if asked but there does need to be opportunities for other to experience this too. I don’t see myself or my district being able to raise $4k to do it again. While this experience has changed me, it needs to be offered to others too, so they can be motivated to change lives, as I have been motivated to inspire my students. My parents divorced when I was one, lived in low income housing for 20+ years. My goals were not high. My first was to graduate high school. Then college, which I thought would never happen. I went on to receive my master’s degree. Got married. Most challenging goal was buying a house, though. That took two people to accomplish. Never lived in one, so didn’t think I would have my own. I cried at my closing. Most people take things for granted. Perhaps having a house is one of them. I never did, so up until now, that was my biggest accomplishment. One might think I am crazy not to put down my children as the greatest thing in my life. I will always say they are my legacy. How I raise them and how they turn out will be a reflection of me. They are my source of joy. But this is different. I’m not sure I can explain this but they are beings of influence. I am only one of many influences on them. I take pride in what they do and love everything about them (yes I used to say I used to love to smell Maggie’s bad breath in the morning). I just don’t see them as an experience. They are ever changing and challenging. Maybe that is why I don’t include them as being the most incredible experience.

PS If you haven’t read the rest of my blog, please do


About Hillyer

I'm a passionate 7th grade science teacher looking to inspire others.
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5 Responses to The After Glow

  1. Andrew Zwicker says:

    That was beautiful, thank you for writing it and sharing it.

  2. Kathy Gentile says:

    You’re a nut! I love your stories and songs. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I wish I was you for those 10 days in Houston! (Yes, I chose to ignore the days of angst and prep work that got you ready for those 10 days of bliss). I focus on the bulls eye! 😉

  3. Hillyer says:

    Thank you both for being wonderful supporters of my journey.

  4. Donna Sakowski says:

    I remember you always being happy and excited over things- you sure know how to enjoy life!
    So happy for you!
    I enjoyed my own “flight” with my girls this summer- spending unhurried time with them!

    What a great inspiration to your kids- showing them how to live their dreams even in spite of the responsibilities of adult life!

    Enjoy the rest of your summer!
    Wishing you many more flights of happiness!

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