“Good luck on your mission”, sounds at the entrance of ESTEC, the technology centre of European Space Agency ESA in Noordwijk in the Netherlands. The message is directed at four primary school classes visiting for the launch of Mission X, the NASA-initiated learning programme with which both ESA and Netherlands Space Office (NSO) aim to educate pupils about the life and work of an astronaut. In fact, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers is here to tell them all about it. Meanwhile, another 600 pupils start their own Mission X elsewhere in the Netherlands.
Living like an astronaut. As a young boy, André Kuipers read exciting science fiction stories, which started his path towards space. Today, his stories about his actual space travels are just as exciting. A hall full of school children suddenly succeeds in being very quiet indeed, listening to explanations about eating, sleeping and exercising while floating aboard the International Space Station. “All this floating around weakens your muscles. Therefore it is very important to get in shape before you go into space and to keep exercising when you're actually there”, says Kuipers, who also talks about showering and going to the toilet in space.
Immediately, that's where the importance of sustainability comes in, both here on the ground and in space. “In space we try not to waste any water. Therefore all urine of the astronauts is collected, purified and recycled into drinkable water”. Of course, this thought is met with hilarity in ESTEC's Erasmus building.
Nevertheless, the very same kids – who do not hesitate to ask Kuipers all kinds of questions – will very seriously live like an astronaut for the next seven weeks. They will learn about the
benefits of keeping their body healthy and will be actively involved in healthy foods and exercising. They will train like astronauts, performing exercises that focus on strength, stamina, coordination, balance, spatial awareness and much more, for that is what Mission X is all about. Worldwide, 80.000 young students in 38 countries will do the same things. In the Netherlands, Mission X is organized by NSO for the seventh time.
Working like an astronaut means working on and with engineering. The Dutch partners in Techniekpact – which include several ministries – also recognize in Mission X the chance to tell young students about the virtues and importance of engineering. Kuipers: “There's a continued big need for engineers and I'm happy to see that these kids are interested in technology. They ask very practical and clever questions. I try to show them that technology is found in virtually everything, including their phones and the food they eat. And I tell them that space science plays a large part in it.”
Sustained awareness about space science and space travel remains very important, and Mission X helps in raising that awareness among the young. Kuipers: “Classrooms are now filled with future astronauts and future Mars-travellers are probably among them. I hope Mission X will help them on their path towards space. It's a wonderful thought, and it's what makes Mission X so very much fun.”