April 18, 2024

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“We are a very small school, a public school in a district of a town in Seville, but that does not prevent us from dreaming big”. The elementary school teacher Herminio Rodríguez assures it, full of pride, on the eve of the expedition that, made up of five children between the ages of 7 and 11, leaves this Thursday for the NASA Space Center Houston (the National Aeronautics and United States Space) as the culmination of an educational science project developed throughout the course.

The school feat of reaching the mecca of space research in the world had been achieved to date by only one school in Spain, private and reserved for the children of the economic elites of Barcelona; but on this occasion, this is the unprecedented story of the Nuestra Señora de la Reina public nursery and primary school in Torre de la Reina, belonging to the Seville municipality of Guillena, a simple agricultural and mining town on the Vía de la Plata, in the one taught by the teacher Herminio, who constantly asks himself the same question: “Why not?”.

Two students from the school speak to the media before the trip to NASA headquarters.
Two students from the school speak to the media before the trip to NASA headquarters. PACO BRIDGES

“Here we teach to dream, we want kids to believe that everything is possible, even the opportunities that seem destined for others. Now that the 2030 agenda is so fashionable, I prefer that slogan of An opportunity for people, with alliances, and the link between civil society and companies. It is wonderful how the region has mobilized to make this dream come true. That is inspiring for other schools, we share the experience to improve the quality of public education. You have to generate illusion in the kids and become obsessed with connecting with society”, explains Herminio Rodríguez, who recognizes that to get here “you have to be a little Quixote”.

This dreamy teacher already managed last year to embark another six students on a trip to Egypt, invited (and covered all expenses) by the Government of the country, as a prize for the educational project playing historydeveloped on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (1922-2022) and after receiving recognition from the Spanish Royal House and the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez.

Following this educational model, and thanks to the constant research work of their teacher, the 189 students of Nuestra Señora del Carmen have continued this year the program stranded by the pandemic traveling through the world, during the development of which they have managed, with much more effort than financial resources, to connect live with the Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques on the International Space Station, 400 kilometers from Earth, through the retransmission provided by the Union of Spanish Radio Amateurs (URE); they have received videos of the Spanish NASA engineers Eduardo García Llama and Carlos García-Galán, with responsibilities in the Artemis mission (from an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon); and have participated in the taking of images of the Earth through the cameras of the International Space Station in their program earthkam. Already set to make impossible dreams a priori, they have also been able to culminate the informative activity with this trip to the Houston Space Center that starts this Thursday and will last one week.

Students from the Nuestra Señora del Carmen public school together with their families.
Students from the Nuestra Señora del Carmen public school together with their families. PACO BRIDGES

But this is also the story of a collective illusion: how the school project has gathered singular support throughout the region, from small shops and bars in the town, which have contributed what they could to pay for the trip, to large institutions. private companies such as Cobre Las Cruces, a mining company with strong roots in the area, and the public support of ministers, tennis player Rafa Nadal, and Spanish astronauts Pablo Álvarez and Sara García. “It was everyone’s dream, the whole society has come together. And this encourages us to get rid of the complex that comes from not having resources, because when the educational community and society come together, this is a tsunami”, says the professor.

The value of public education

So this little story is also about something big: “the value of public education,” says Herminio. “School is the key, Pablo and Sara, our Spanish astronauts at NASA, say it every time they are interviewed: without public education they would not have reached where they are today. And the quality of teaching has its strength in alliances, which is what we have been looking for throughout the course”.

The first to believe in the project was the geologist Adriana Ocampo. Herminio shows satisfaction to EL PAÍS the WhatsApp audio sent by this Colombian planetary geologist, director of NASA’s science program and linked to Spain as a member of the jury for the Princess of Asturias Awards for Scientific and Technical Research. “She lit the fuse and we began to shape it,” recalls the professor. “In her message, the values ​​of tenacity and teamwork are implicit, and the children have internalized that.”

From there, the way was paved for Marina (8 years old), Teo (7), Hugo (7), Sergio (9) and Aitor (11), to have been selected by lottery – “it was the fairest” – among the 189 school children who travel, along with the teacher and a parent, to Houston. There they will be received by the Spanish NASA engineer Eduardo García Lama, head of guidance and control of the program’s Orion rocket. Artemis, promoted by this center to implement a continuous and sustainable human presence on the Moon, the first step towards sending a manned mission to the planet Mars in the future.

The first Lunar Constitution

The components of the expedition plan to give the engineer a unique gift: the first Lunar Constitution, which the students of the Nuestra Señora del Carmen School have drawn up with the rights and duties of those who could be the first human inhabitants of the Moon in the future. . “Each child has written their point of view of how their governance of the moon can be”, with quotes as forceful as “that there be free lunar healing” or “the wealth of the Moon be distributed in a fair and controlled way”, as you can be read in an exciting document of children’s handwriting.

Likewise, the five students will be direct witnesses of the space exploration methods, more than 400 objects, exhibited in the Houston Center, as well as exhibits related to projects in this area. They will also learn first-hand about the Artemis programme, which at the end of last year completed its first unmanned orbit mission to the moon. Finally, the tour includes a visit to the Johnson Space Center, located in the same city in the State of Texas, where all manned flights from the United States and the international space station are coordinated and supervised.

This is, therefore, a great little story of a great little school: “They already call us the colegio miracle”, presumes Herminio. One small step for a child, as Neil Armstrong would say…

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