Like an astronaut

The Resource Center has become the first participant in an adaptation of an international NASA training program.

NASA’s Train Like an Astronaut Mission X program was developed to bring activity to students while inspiring learning, and NASA’s Educator Scientist Scott Townsend came to the area to help the Resource Center adapt the program for its participants.

Special Projects Coordinator for Day Services Johnny Tuoley of the Resource Center said five teams have been developed across the county with about 50 officially participating from all five sites, ranging in age from 18 to 55 years old. The local team is named the Dunkirk Comets and is participating with students from 22 other countries, all of which are blogging about the experience in 15 different languages.

The TLA program helps students learn about NASA and the space program by engaging in activities similar to those astronauts do to prepare to go into space. “It’s all about physical activity and the same kinds of things astronauts do. A lot of it is pretty basic like an agility course, doing puzzles with gloves on for dexterity and things like that,” Townsend explained.

“Adapting the program for people with unique needs” is a new venture for the program according to Townsend. “This is brand new. We met with a group from the Special Olympics in New York and went back to Houston back in early fall to look at the activities,” he said.

The Resource Center became the testing ground for the adaptations. “They are ground breaker for Mission X in adapting to people with special needs,” Townsend explained. “I’ve been here all week and Johnny and I are going to all sites that have Train Like an Astronaut,” to develop the program for people with special needs.

“It’s pretty much the same approach, but we made some adaptations to some of the activities. Some individuals may have lesser ability with fine motor skills so you make changes to how you go about doing the activity,” Townsend said, and added, “The emphasis is just on becoming healthy and more fit and not just based on that competitive nature” found in most sports, Townsend explained.

Tuoley said, “There has been really good interaction between the staff and those who are participating. It’s been fantastic. I guess the best part is just seeing the excitement they bring to it, and the interest in space because of it.”

Townsend described his visit to the teams as “heartwarming” and said, “It’s very cool to see the person in a wheelchair is doing the exact same event in the exact same way” as middle school student participants for whom the project was originally designed.

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