Brad Gurda’s seventh-grade students at Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology in Rockville are in for a surprise when school starts again in September. Their teacher will be wearing the blue flight suit he was given while attending the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program this summer.
Gurda spent five very intense days in Huntsville, Alabama, learning not just about space and what astronauts experience but also how to make science interesting to his students.
“It was remarkable,” said the 31-year-old teacher, who lives in Frederick. For five days, he joined a group of teachers from 45 states and 33 countries as he participated in classroom lectures and laboratory and field training. He worked with a team of 15 teachers who performed many of the same exercises that astronauts do.
Gurda sat in the fuselage of a helicopter as it was dropped into a lake to simulate a crash. Trapped in the copter, his team members worked to free themselves. While Gurda said it wasn’t scary as he knew the program leaders wouldn’t let him drown, it was still an intense experience.
In another experiment, he was spun around “in every direction, upside down, left, right” to stimulate losing control of his spaceship and having to correct the spin.
The experience lasted only 30 to 40 seconds. Any longer, and he would have gotten “very, very sick,” said Gurda.
“Honestly, I got up and walked off,” he said, noting this since the stomach is the body’s center of gravity, he was able to fend off any sickness for that short of time.
He also sat in a moon chair to experience one-sixth the gravity on Earth, enjoying the feeling of pushing off and “going 10 to 15 feet, no problem.”
Gurda, who will be starting his fourth year teaching at Parkland this fall, intends to bring what he learned to the classroom – minus the space crafts and reduced-gravity equipment.
His students will learn about the heat shields that protect a spacecraft as it re-enters the atmosphere by creating their own heat shield to protect an egg. They will test to see how well they did by subjecting their shields to a blowtorch, he said.
By re-enacting other experiments he did at the space academy, Gurda hopes to help his students understand how spaceships stay in orbit without falling back to Earth.
Although immersed in science, Gurda said the biggest thing he learned – and what he hopes to pass onto to his students – is to “just say yes to everything. Try everything.”
None of the experiments or activities were mandatory, but Gurda tried everything. “It’s a big thing to get out of your comfort zone,” he said.
When he’s not teaching, he can be found playing ice hockey or rooting for his favorite hockey, soccer and football teams, most of which are from New York, where he grew up.
He decorated an entire basement wall with all the New York Rangers paraphernalia he has collected since he was 8years old.
Gurda has always loved science, especially physics and chemistry, but working in a magnet school that stresses aerospace, satellite and robotic engineering made him want to attend the program.
He applied a year ago and was accepted. However, the date of the program fell right when his first child was due. He stayed home when his daughter was born and reapplied this year. He was accepted again, and this time was able to attend.
Gurda was one of three Maryland teachers and the only one from Montgomery County to attend.