By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Teresa Ware opened her accelerated chemistry class at Tupelo High School last Wednesday morning by holding up a tile covered in shrink-wrap.
She passed the tile to her students and challenged them to guess what it was.
What the students didn’t immediately know was that they were holding a tile that had been used on a NASA space shuttle.
Ware had access to the tile thanks to Tupelo High School alumnus Erek Allen, who had played tennis with Ware’s son. Allen, who works for NASA, emailed several teachers he knew to tell them that the space agency was making several dismantled tiles available to educators.
Ware filled out a lengthy application and received her tile in February or March of last year. She said it plans to use it with her class throughout the year.
“I’m so excited,” Ware said.
Ware has an autographed photo in her classroom of astronaut Jon McBride, whom she met a few years ago while dinning in a space shuttle hangar in Cape Canaveral, Fla., home of the Kennedy Space Center. She said having a tile from a shuttle is special.
Because the space shuttle program was recently discontinued, it is even more meaningful.
“It was neat because the shuttle is not around any longer,” said student Katie Grace. “It is neat that we have this piece of history we can see in our science class.”
On Wednesday, the students first had to guess the tile’s identity. Tyler Fields said he quickly realized what it was.
“I don’t know how I knew,” he said. “It just popped in my head.”
The students said they were surprised by the tile’s weight. While it had to protect the shuttle from catching on fire while entering the Earth’s atmosphere, it also had to be light enough to allow the shuttle to fly.
“It was lighter than I thought it would be on a space shuttle,” said Lueretta Hall.
The class measured and weighed the tile to determine its density. Throughout the year, the students will use it as a prop when they talk about temperature, heat resistance or the chemicals astronauts use to absorb carbon dioxide, for example. They may watch videos of the tile being placed near a flame to show that it doesn’t burn.
NASA provided a lesson plan for how teachers can use the tile. Ware said they will also do research on the number printed on it to try to determine which shuttle it was on and where it was located.
“That is not something a normal teacher would do,” said Matthew Rogers. “It is really interesting.”