Clovis students dive into space

A file photo from the inaugural Dive into Space program in July 2016 shows the underwater component designed to imitate weightless conditions in space. (Photo courtesy of Ron Webb)

By Tomas Kassahun

For one week in July, 40 high school students in Clovis participated in a program called Dive Into Space.

The program is designed to encourage pursuit of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. But the students learned much more during the week.

“We’re introducing the children to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to help them with career choices, but the program is more than that,” said program evaluator Steve Price. “It has a leadership component.”

That leadership aspect is especially evident when the students work in crews.

“Your crew becomes really important to you and you really learn to work with others in an environment where you have problems to solve together,” Price said.

Using the nearby Buchanan High School pool as a neutral buoyancy lab, the students of Dive Into Space wore scuba gear to perform tasks underwater that simulate working in space.

“For two hours a day, the students are training in scuba. For another four hours a day, they’re building underwater robots,” Price said.

The robots, which have cameras, are controlled by joysticks. Each crew goes to build the robots after they finish scuba diving.

“It involves engineering design, it involves coding or programming, it involves understanding a lot of physics,” Price said. “They learn how to build, design and test underwater robots.”  

Most of the students in the Dive Into Space program are involved in a Teacher Pathway program, which is designed to specifically help those students who want to become teachers.   

Dive Into Space was created by Russ Billings, a NASA Educator Astronaut Interviewee for the Astronaut Class of 2004.

In 2006, Billings introduced the team building program to his high school college physics students in Flint, MI.

Dive Into Space was introduced to California in 2016 and ran its first program in Clovis, where 30 high school students completed the intensive six-day courses and training missions.

“Clovis Unified is an innovative district that likes to forge ahead,” Price said. “They saw this as an innovation in STEM. They wanted this option for their students.”

Now, the goal is to expand the program into other parts of California.

“We have visitors from all over the state,” Price said. “We will be doing it elsewhere.”