Imagine the possibilities through Space Trek!

Brittany Bull (16) from Pelican Park High School in Cape Town recently took part in the Space Trek bootcamp that saw 14 young women design, build and launch their very own satellites into the atmosphere using weather balloons. Since Brittany joined the programme with the sole goal of empowering herself, Carla de Klerk talked to her about the experience.

Why did you decide to take part in Space Trek?

I wanted to learn new things and experience what it would be like to pursue science and technology after school level. Until Space Prep I never imagined myself experimenting with satellites, which has helped me imagine a world of possibilities so I thought it good to further my knowledge and skills with regards to satellites, science and technology. Satellites are so important to technological advancement in the world so I wanted learn more about the type of STEM field I would like to pursue after high school and to empower myself as a female in STEM for the future.

Why do you think young women are less inclined to follow a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related degree and career?

In most societies there is still the stigma whereby women are the homemakers and are supposed to do “feminine” things such as housekeeping or teaching. Women are equally capable as men to work in STEM if they are given the opportunity to learn and obtain the necessary skills. Women need to know that it is possible with determination and guidance to do anything. Break barriers and don’t let anyone put you in a stereotyped box. Prove the stigmas wrong!

Tell us about Space Trek:

This past week at Space Trek, we’ve done so many new things. There was some revision from previous work that I’ve done in previous grades in physical science, but most of the time we were learning about things in space and satellites and how to build electronics. 

I enjoyed the practical side of learning. The way we taught we first learnt the theory which didn’t really make much sense at first. It felt as though we were thrown into the deep end, but then when we did the practical and it all just clicked. 

What did you learn?

This past week I’ve learnt so much about myself, that I don’t have the patience sometimes, that I get really frustrated when something is hard and that I like speaking to other people and absorbing information from them. When I was with my team mate, we would continuously bounce ideas off each other and that helped me learn a lot. 

My favourite part of Space Trek was the practicals and working in a team where we got to interact with each other and not just sit and look at the textbook the entire time and try to learn something without really doing it. I really enjoyed learning to solder, and I never would have learnt it if I didn’t come to Space Trek.

A few interesting things I learnt at Space Trek about space and satellites, that the things that most South Africans have in their home, DSTV, is made possible by a satellite which is really far away. It’s about 1000kms into space and the atmosphere in which we live, the troposphere is really small in comparison where the DSTV satellite is as it only expands up to 12 kms.

How does your satellite work?

We were given a mission to measure the temperature of the atmosphere up to five kilometres, so we built a Cricketsat, a small satellite that was able to read back that requirement. The way my Cricketsat works, is that its connected on a PCB, uses a 9V battery. The thing that measures the temperature is a special kind of technology called a thermistor. As the temperature rises or decreases, the rate that it resists current changes. That is how we would be able to measure the temperature because the way the current flows, through the circuit would change with the temperature and the frequency that the waves that run through the circuit would change. As the data is projected back to a ground station we use a mathematical calculation to turn the frequency metres into a temperature rating. The launch of the Cricketsat has to happen on a clear day, using the helium balloon as a launch vehicle to send the Cricketsat to the correct altitude where it will burst between four to six kilometres. 

Where to from here?

Space Trek has helped me learn that females don’t only need to do a certain thing. In the community I come from, we are taught that females should only do feminine jobs and do feminine things. Going into science isn’t really a thing a female should do. Space Trek showed me that a person can do anything they set their minds to, and that really opened up my mind to many other possible careers I could follow after school. Currently I’m thinking of becoming either a doctor or a chemical engineer as I really enjoy biochemistry. 

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