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Japanese students reach for the stars at U.S. Space Camp

by Kantaro Komiya

Contributing Writer

Seven Japanese junior high school students and three teachers are currently taking part in this year’s Space Camp, a six-day, hands-on learning program in the United States that aims to raise youth interest in space science.

Based at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Space Camp has provided educational experiences since 1982, including the launching of model rockets and simulated space missions, for thousands of students and teachers from more than 60 countries.

The participants, drawn from three public schools in Tokyo, Shizuoka and Aomori prefectures, have received financial support from global aerospace and defense technology giant Northrop Grumman Corp. to join the program through Friday. The company began sponsoring students for the camp last year.

Prior to their departure, the participants made presentations on their hopes for the camp and beyond at a send-off party in Tokyo last week. Before the event, they had visited the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tsukuba Space Center to learn about their own country’s space exploration efforts.

Takato Kamikawa of Shinmei Junior High School in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, looked forward to special lectures that will be given by aerospace experts in Huntsville.

“Although my English skill isn’t perfect, I’ll absorb many things there, especially things I’ve never learned in Japan,” said the student, who hopes to become a scientist tackling the mysteries of space.

Kaito Kaminagane and Sora Namioka, of Misawa No. 1 Junior High School in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, said their aspirations went beyond the camp — they hoped to develop space rockets and a time machine, respectively.

“I’ll share what I know and make the most of this opportunity with people from around the world,” Namioka said.

The camp also includes a curriculum for educators that focuses on the teaching of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects to children.

Chiharu Yoshioka, a biology teacher from Hakuo Junior High School in Tokyo who is joining the program with two students from her school, said she was excited to see the U.S. approach to the subjects.

“I’m quite interested in such programs in America and how the systems (of STEM education) are provided for children, as well as for teachers,” she said.