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Friday, July 12, 2013

Space museum on brink of coming to Calvert

Facility to provide STEM programs outside of school for kids, adults

By Sara Newman, Staff Writer

The Calvert County Board of Education is considering putting a space museum in an area now being occupied by old Calvert High School guidance counselors' offices in the planetarium in 2014.

A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the public schools and Volanz Aerospace Inc., Spaceflight Institute, a local 501(c)3 non-profit organization striving to provide space science and space-related, high-technology educational and research programs for students.

Alan Hayes, chairman and CEO of Volanz Aerospace, Inc. Spaceflight Institute instructs Tristan Praytor, 10, how astronauts communicated through microphones attached to this 1985 Russian version of a U.S. Snoopy cap.

“[The museum] is the next step,” said Alan Hayes, chairman and CEO of Volanz Aerospace Inc. “We've been trying to do this for many years. This facility will give us an opportunity to create [science, technology, engineering and math] programs outside of school for kids and adults.”

Staff photo by SARA NEWMAN
Alan Hayes, chairman and CEO of Volanz Aerospace, Inc. Spaceflight Institute instructs Tristan Praytor, 10, how astronauts communicated through microphones attached to this 1985 Russian version of a U.S. Snoopy cap
“He's someone who's willing to share what he knows with kids,” George Leah, director of school construction, said of Hayes. “His excitement is really a great thing.” alandebbie

Leah was scheduled to discuss building the museum in the planetarium with the board at its latest meeting held Thursday after time of press. Leah said, as someone who witnessed the pinnacle of the space race, he is excited about the museum.

Hayes, an enterprise architect who has worked with the Federal Aviation Administration for 21 years, started the institute wht Sigmund Gorski, the director of camp programs who is retired from the FAA, in 1999. Both men loved learning about the space program growing up and remember being enamored teenagers while watching the first landing on the moon in 1969.

“We noticed a need for this type of education,” Hayes said. “[Something] to get people and students interested beyond the typical school programs. They just aren't available.”

Throughout the summer, Hayes and Gorski, with instructor Debbie Walton, run weeklong camps at different schools in the area for students from third to fifth grade. This summer, they are at the College of Southern Maryland in Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles counties and Anne Arundel Community College. Next year, the institute will expand and run camps throughout Maryland and Virginia.

Hayes and Gorski donate their time to the camp. With full-time jobs of their own, the camp creators use vacation and personal days to be at the camps Mondays and Fridays. The rest of the camp is taught by Walton, a teacher at Sunderland Elementary School. Walton has been teaching at the camp for four years and said teaching and working with kids is her absolute passion. She said the museum will give children a chance to extend their curiosity and imaginations.

“[The museum] will be something new, innovative and a good use of the county's space,” Walton said. “The children will really benefit from something like this.”

Hayes said this camp is different from other educational programs and camps that focus solely on science and technology. According to Hayes, the camp is more than just science. He said, “The kids have to have fun.”

“We work very hard on our curriculum,” Hayes said. “There is a method to our madness.”

The camp uses computer programs and software that allows students to simulate flying a spacecraft. In addition to engineering and space-related projects, students get to see artifacts from real space shuttles and missions. Among the items Hayes brought with him this week were an Apollo space suit from 1972, a space glove and shoe and a Russian high-altitude helmet from 1985. Most of the artifacts are from NASA, through a program that donates historical space artifacts to schools, universities, museums, libraries and planetariums.

“We were looking to see how they were being placed and how they're being implemented to contribute to our purpose, which is to inspire young minds,” Susan Kinney, director of Logistics at NASA, said.

Kinney and three other members from NASA headquarters came to the CSM La Plata campus Monday to thank and congratulate Hayes and the institute for putting use to these historical artifacts and using them to teach. Kinney said before any property is disposed of, they look for an educational outreach. The items are free for eligible institutions, aside from shipping costs.

“We just knew there had to be a mechanism that we could provide those types of items to schools and universities,” Kinney said. “Because of the STEM programs, we created a website and modeled it off of eBay thinking, 'There's gotta be some way to show people these things.'”

Hayes plans to include all of his collected artifacts in the museum, including space suits, controls from the inside of the Apollo spacecraft and artifacts from the International Space Station. The museum will even boast a Chinese space suit, which, as Hayes pointed out, not even the Smithsonian has.

Hayes said the camp will run a fundraiser this fall to raise money for the construction and shipping costs for the artifacts. Even more important than money, Hayes said, are individuals donating their time and help. The museum will need volunteers to run and organize it, and Hayes said with the amount of retired NASA employees in the area, he hopes many will step up and support their efforts. Those interested can email Volanz Aerospace Inc. at

Hayes plans for the museum to be filled with students on field trips from schools in and out of the county. For those who can't make the trip to Prince Frederick, the museum will pack up and go to them.

“People will be able to see some unique things they wouldn't get to see otherwise,” Hayes said. “But the educational value is the most important thing.”