HELENA — On Wednesday, NASA moved their Artemis I Moon Rocket to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. ExplorationWorks Education Director Sara Feilzer was selected by the space agency to be there for the scheduled launch on August 29.
The goal of the Artemis program is to return humanity to the moon. NASA plans to establish the first long-term presence there, explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and use the information learned from Artemis to send people to Mars.
“Artemis I, this launch is historic,” said Feilzer. “It’s about 15% more thrust capacity than the Saturn V that took us to the Moon the first time. So it’s the largest rocket and the beginning of a new lunar mission era. We’re going back to the moon.”
NASA put out the call in July looking for up to 100 digital creators to join them for the launch of Artemis I. Feilzer will be sharing her experiences on social media about touring NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center, meeting with rocket scientists and seeing the launch firsthand.
Feilzer said she’s surprised to be selected for the program, but is glad she’s able to bring these experiences back to Montana.
“I sign up for it thinking ‘there’s no way they’d pick me to be part of this, I don’t have enough social media followers, I don’t have any of that.’ But what I did share is that I live in Helena, Montana and Montana is a largely rural state that doesn’t have a Challenger Center or a Space Center that kids can go to,” noted Feilzer.
However, if you ask Feilzer’s students they’re not surprised at all she was chosen.
“She deserves it and she’s so into space,” explained soon-to-be St. Andrew School eighth-grade student Coen McLean.
McLean says Feilzer is always a beacon of excitement when teaching.
“She gets to teach us about what she’s passionate about and she has so much enthusiasm for what she’s teaching to us. It’s great for the kids and for me especially, because when I came here I thought it was going to be boring old camps but it’s actually been really fun hanging out and doing things,” noted McLean.
She’s even inspired some former students to become educators themselves. Spencer Wright was a long-time summer camper at ExplorationWorks, but now he’s one of their educators.
“Sara’s awesome! She makes everyone feel like they’re part of a huge big family and we’re all working together for everything we do here,” said Wright.
Feilzer said she was also curious about her surroundings at a young age and delighted in testing things out to see what would happen. After seeing her mix leaves, mud and water, her parents bought her a microscope.
“That just fueled that curiosity from there on,” recalled Feilzer. “From there I was burning marshmallows, mixing things together, building things and seeing what I could do.”
While her parents were supportive, it was a few of her mentors and teachers that helped her realize science and teaching could be a career.
“I went to school in Missoula so Ms. Hanks, my sixth-grade science teacher, I distinctly remember realizing I loved chemistry in her class,” recalled Feilzer. “My chemistry teacher Dave Jones at Missoula Big Sky High School really helped me realize, ‘Hey, this is something you’re really good at and you love doing it, you could do it for a career.’”
For Feilzer, she says the best part of what she does is interacting with her students. Greeting them when they come to camp, answering their questions and showing them just how much fun science can be.
“When I'm lighting my hand on fire or blowing something up and just that like smile, that laugher, that ‘whoa, wait a second’ look that they get when something doesn’t go like they expected to or even goes exactly like they expected it to but is still awesome.”
Education is like any chemical reaction. Students react to the material that’s presented to them and are changed by the process. But when you add a catalyst like Sara Feilzer to the situation, the reaction can be tenfold.