John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2012 March 17
    Mention 'Henry Street' to most people and threy conjure images of 
ghettos,streets filled with carts and wagons, clothes lines arching 
across alleys, children hanging out on fire escapes, crud and trash on 
sidewalks. Yes, Hentry Street was one of the archetypical streets of 
the Ghetto, the actual name for this quarter of Manhattan in the late 
19th and early 20th century. It was commonly the first residence for 
immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, then packed into tenements lining 
Henry Street, and nearby ones, as far as the horizon. 
    This image prevailed into the mid 20th century, even after much of 
the slums were replaced by municipal housing estates. These dwellings 
provided code-compliant (sort of) resdences for myriads of families. 
They still do today, with newer estates dotted here and there. 
    Today, early 21st centruy, Henry Street with its surrounds is 
under a mass transformation into a middle and upper class nabe. It's 
not a hood, but a nabe. The old tenements are under renovation into 
coops and condos. New ones are rising in the vacant lots where slums 
burned down decades ago. 
    While there is a valid social debate about displacing the former 
residents, who now live 'else where', the district is growing more 
affluent by the month.
    I had the chance to explore this district as part of a school trip 
I helped with on 2012 March 16. Fellow NYSkier Steve kaye, earth 
science teacher at james Madison High School, took his class to a 
special space exhibnbit there, described below, and needed extra 
adults to herd the students along. 
Lower East Side
    The nabe evolved in name to just Lower East Side, a vague quarter 
of Manhattan that ropes in many smaller sections like Seward Park, 
Rutgers Square, Little Italy, Columbus Park. For one thing, the Jewish 
population, whnce came the old name 'Ghetto', long ago faded away. New 
natioanlities are varied, none dominating the scene. 
    Never the less, pictures I took of this area during the school 
trip may shock the weak-stomached viewer. Painted graffiti! Garbage 
piles! Busted windows! Dead cars! Overgrown weeds! Sickly people! 
Anemic pets! Cracked pavements! Rutted streets! Broken lamp poles! 
Yes, this is still an icky desitnation for many visitors. 
Center of Space Science Education 
    Since about 2006 there is a marvelous attraction right on Henry 
Street. It is here, in probably the most insane place on Earth for 
such a facility, that the New York City Department of Education 
estblished its Center for Space Science Eduucation. In other towns 
this would be part of a college, museum, nature center, park. Here it 
is plumb smack in the core of the old Ghetto. 
    This favility is one of many 'Challenger' halls built around the 
United States by a foundation set up in memory of the 1986 Shuttle 
Challenger disaster. The workd 'Challenger' isn't really part of the  
name, like it is for the other halls, but that's where the initial 
startup support came from. 
    The Center is part of the Department of Educaiton and runs only 
for school visits. There is as at 2012 no public services or walkin 
visits. Its latent operation probably accounts for the lack of pblic 
notice. I include it in NYC Events for astronomers to know about and 
refer schools to it. 
    An other cause for its hidden guise is that it's built into a 
junior high school. It occupies several rooms in one wing of the 
school with only a simple wall sign near the entrance. Even the canopy 
over the entance has only the address '220 Henry Street'. Even that's 
misleading because the entrance is really arond the corner on 
Montgomery Street! 
Class trip
    Steve kaye arranged a visit to the Centr for his and an other 
class. The tour was staged on Friday 16 March 2012 with every one 
assembling in the lobby of his school at 8AM. 
    Steve earlier in March explained that the group will be a large 
one, needing several chapherones. Can I be one? Yes, I opted in to 
both see the Center myself and to work with Mr kaye. 
    I knew about the Center but never had an occasion to visit it. 
SInce it works only for school groups, public and private, there was 
no obvious chance for me as an individiual or even delegate for 
NYSkies to see it alone. 
    On Wednesday the 14th Kaye and I touched bases to note that there 
may be as many as 45 students on the trip. He explained that the 
Center's seating can work only two groups of 24 each, plus adults. the 
He made up this number by dividng the kids into a class for '4B1', a 
school designation, and 'others'. Each would be held to 24 kids each. 
    Each student needed a parent's consent form and a fee for the 
trip. The Center chages a fee, I forget how much, of's a couple 
hundred dollars for each visit to help cover running expenses. 
    The kids also were told to have carfare, which I'll explain later, 
and lunch. There is no close place to get lunch at the Center. 
    Because this was a formal school activiity, the group had to 
return to the school, or at the very least the school's train station, 
before the end of the school day. From there they go home in the usual 
manner. This was the hardest part of the trip as I'll describe later. 
James Madison High School 
    This chool is by suburban or small town norms is humongous! Yet 
for New York it's just an other large high school serving the district 
of Brooklyn about two kilometers around it within irregular frontiers. 
Beyond them bounds other high schools, just as huge, take care of 
eduating Brooklyn children. 
    I did not attend Madison,but several friends did. My only 
association with it was that my school, Midwood High School, had no 
swimming pool. For swimming we went to Madison for its pool. Other 
than for that I just don't travel to Madison, altho I could see it 
from the train when passing thru its nabe. 
    The school occupies most of two joined city blocks. The remaining 
area is an athletic field. Enrollment fluctuates a bit each year butin 
2012 about 3,500 students convene here on each schoo day. I do have to 
own up to a nagging situation among modern urban students. Many cut 
class, shrinking the school-day attendance to about 2,500-2,800. 
    In the old days the school system had a corps of 'truant officers' 
who tracked down delinquent kids and dragged them in for 
interrogation. When the parents came to get the child, he was often 
walloped on the spot for skipping school. 
    Today there are no such tactics but absence letters are sent to 
the parents anyway. Scine the kids can see the return address on the 
mail and throw the letters away, many teachers use foreign envelopes! 
These are salvaged from personal or business mail with harmless return 
addresses. If this sounds crazy, it is. 
    Beofre eading off on the trip Mr Kaye deposited in a lobby office 
papers for student suspensions. In the old days he was sent home,where 
the parents would wallop him. Of course, the child doesn't tell hid 
folks about the suspension. He goes out each morning as if to school 
but gets into mischief in the streets. There were always several 
suspended kids around to meet up with. 
    Now, due to newer interpretations of the education regulations, 
the student still reports to school! He is sent to a detention room 
within the school building where he just sits around all day and must 
keep out of trouble. To fight off boredom the kid ends up doing 
homework or studying. Maybe the modern tactic is a better one? 
    In spite of the urban situation of Madison, it is among the better 
learning experiences in Brooklyn, producing many Intel and other math 
& science contest entrants. Many Madison graduates capture admission 
to top-tier colleges and win scholarships to attend them. 
    The school building is an old one with the heavy educational motif 
so typical of the earlier generation of school construction in New 
    The lobby, the only part I saw during this trip, was laden with 
furnishings that today may seem bizarre. One was the 'official clock' 
over the 'attenance office'. In the old days, being late was a no-no, 
recorded in your school record. While this is no longer done, the 
clock still ticks. It's elegant, wood cabinet, razor-sharp numbers, 
arrow-head hands, little metal doo-dads moving around inside. 
    An other is a ceremonial stairs that carried students to the day's 
classes in grand style. Others are the lavish use of wood and sculpted 
or cast plaster decorations. One modern touch is the X-ray scanner and 
magnetic gate like at airports. Next to the machine was a closed 
cardboard box that felt heavy when I poked at it. Was it fiiled with 
yesterday's catch of weapons and contraband? 
We're off!
    Steve, I, tow other shepherds, lined up the students in two rows. 
One was for the '4B1' group; the other, 'others'. The two extra 
chaperones were a student's father and a Madison teacher. Kaye did 
rollcall and was glad that every one was on line. 
    We herded the flock along the streets about 800 meters to the 
Kings Highway train station. At several street corners Kaye halted the 
line to make sure all students were present and not left behind. 
    One complication was that most students did not have breakfast. 
Most students do breakfast in the school's cafeteria before classes 
but this time the trip was earlier than the first period for most of 
the kids. We arranged that they could grab a quick takeaway breakfast 
at vearious stores around the station. They had to get back on line 
within ten minutes. 
    I, too, skipped breakfast. I dived into a deli for a bagel and 
schmear, wrapped to go. This I munched on during the train ride. 
    Because we were shepherding so large a group we had to frequently 
line up for head count. Since the kids know each other from school, 
Kaye asked them to account for an apparently wayward student. A last 
count was done before entering the station. 
Major glitch!
    The Department of Education arranges passage for school trips on 
the City's transit system. It issues a form for the trip leader to 
deliberate with the station agent so the group can enter to the 
platforms thru the slam gates. We were ready to rumble at about 8:30.. 
    This form is valid only outside rush hour. In the morning it takes 
effect at 9:30AM. Usually the agent allow a school group with teachers 
enter earlier. He fudges the time on the form to a bit later than 
9:30. Today there was a police officer near the turnstiles! The 
station agent probably didn't want to start any trouble with him so he 
went by the strict rules. He refused the trip forms! 
    Stve argued a bit but the agent ignored him and handled other 
customers. The fallback plan was to get MetroCards at the dispensers 
for kids with no card in hand. The consent form warned about having 
carfare precisa mente because the trip begins well before 9:30AM. 
    Lining up to buy cards and sharing money squandered about 20 
minutes, which is what Steve allowed as a buffer against tain delays. 
A real delay en route would throws into late time.
    We got all the kids thru the turnstiles and did an other head 
count. We then went up to the platofrm to await the train. For a small 
group we would pile into one car. With some 50 of us we could spread 
across two cars. Steve knows this station well enough to stand where 
the center doors of a car would stop at and directed the group to wait 
    We actually did fit into one car, it being only loosely filled 
with other riders. Some kids found seats. The Center is near the East 
Broadway station, a clumsy place to get to from Madison High School. 
It requires a change of train and reversal of direction. 
    We rode to Broadway-Lafayette station, crossed over to the 
downtwon side, and took a train back to Brooklyn via an other route. 
We got off at East Broadway, just before entering Brooklyn. On both 
the uptown platform when we left the first train and again on the 
downtown side before boarding the seocnd train we did a head count. 
The kids queued up for the 4B1 group and the all-other group. So far 
every one was prsent and accounted for. 
    We wxited at East Broadway and walked about four blocks to Henry 
Street and the Center. Many kids were amazed at the scenery! This must 
be a real filthy place to live! Some noticed rebuilding, construction, 
repairs but it was still a culture shock. 
East Broadway station 
    To the rider passing thru this station on a train it looks 
spectacularly unspectacular. An island platform flanked by the up and 
down town tracks, a couple stairs leading up to the street, and that's 
it. What more is really needed for a small way station on the Rutgers 
St line? 
    Only if you get off and head to the street do things look 
peculiar. Why is the station four floors under the street? Why long 
ramps here and there? Why so many entrances on the street? 
    The answer to these and associated questions about this station, 
skipping the history of it all, is that East Broadway is built to 
accommodate a cross line with interchange. The cross line, Worth St 
line, would have its platforms above East Broadway and the extra ramps 
and hallways would lead to it. With two lines working this station, 
more entrances would collect the larger number of riders. 
    The Worth St line, never built, would tap off of the 8th Av line 
south of Caanl St station. The turnouts are alreay in place as 
provision for later construction. The line, of two tracks, would run 
east in WorthSt, northeast in East Broadway, east under East River a 
couple blocks south of the Williamsburg Bridge, into Brooklyn. On the 
Broooklyn side the Worth St line would connect with other unbuilt 
lines. One station on the line would be the upper deck of East 
Broadway, probablky called 'Rutgers St'. 
    Part of the upper station was actually built! It was then sealed 
up behind walls! You can see part of it as a huge bumpout in the roof 
of the existing lower deck at about mid way along the platform. 
Mustering up
    We arrived at the Center to be greeted by its instructor. He 
carefully counted the students in he two groups to make sure there 
were no more than 24 in each. Adults were extra, not counted.
    Inside, the Center occupied one end of a school hallway and was 
separated from the school by ordinary, but closed, hall doors. The 
rooms were apparently dug out of former classrooms and were arranged 
in two groups opposite a spine orridor. One side had the facilities 
for aviation and aeronuatics. The other was a mockup of a space 
capsule and ground command base.
    The groups went to theri side for the morning exercies. The one I 
was attached, I forget which, was did aciation. After lunch the groups 
swopped sides so my group did the space exercise in the afternoon. 
Lunch was taken in an empty room, where coats, bags, and lunch were 
stored during the day. For security they were packed into locked bins.
    The instructor explained the principles of lift and airflow over 
an airplane wing. The flow comes from the motion of the plane thru the 
air, as driven by propeller or jet. He ran models of wing in a small 
wind tunnel that presented readings of pressure, speed, lift force on 
a projection screen.
    We played with plastic and cardboard airplane models to see the 
effects of wing and tail flaps. Bending the flaps on the model made 
the plane rise, fall, turn when laucnhed by hand into the air.
    A flgiht simulator was demonstrated to show on computer screen the 
motion of a plane when carious flaps are operated. Then the students 
were assigned to a simulator for themselfs. There were several models 
of simulator but all were essentially computers with small joystick 
and pedls to resemble the cockpit of a plane. Headphones recited 
instruction during the simulation.
    The displays were on large screen, like a windshiled view with 
stylized landscape and sirplane. In the scene the plane is a rear 
view, s if really floowing it in flight. It maneuvered under control 
of the pedals and joystick.
    Taking off was easy. Gun the engine and set the flaps for mazimum  
lift. Once in the iar the student could fly the plane as he wanted, 
and also do a manoeuver by narrated instructions. The objective was to 
show that the plane operated by the action of air on its wings and 
tail, as modified by the setting of the flaps.
    This was actaully very well done. The effect was realistic enough 
to give a reasonable sense of flying a plane like a delux video game. 
In one scenario the student had to fly around New York and then dive 
under several bridges. Believe it or not, occasioanlly a small private 
plane actually does like along East River. The pilot gets a good 
dressdown and maybe a citation or penalty when he lands.
    Landing was real tough. The trick was to touch down, set the flaps 
to make the airflow press the plane down on the ground. Then relax the 
engine and apply the wheel brakes. Most kids ran off of the runway, 
missed a touchdown and had to loop around, crashed the plane.
    We did lucj in an empty room with a few posters and props. Tyhe 
bins were opened to let students fetch theri lunch. Lunch was about 45 
minutes with kids sitting at small tables or on the floor or window 
sills. Rubbish went into a large trash barrel.
On to Mars!
    We changed sides after lunch. My group was split into a few to 
crew a maock up space capsul in one room. The rest sat at consoles in 
the command base built into a much large room. I sat with a student at 
a command console.
    During the simulated mission students had to move around in the 
room, darkened to allow easy view of the console screens. To help 
recognize the student's roles, according as the console he worked, 
color-coded lab coats were issued. Comms between the capsule and base 
was by intercom microphones and headphones to simulate a radio link. 
    The instructor gave an overview of the 'mission', an orbiting 
capsule that will land on Mars, collect soil, and return to orbit. The 
vidoe screen gave a capsule eye view of Mars and the consoles 
displayed assorted instruemtn and laboratory graphs and gages. 
    There was a hidden narration that moved the mission along with 
instructions and reports to either the base or capsule. The students 
responded by adjusting the controls on the console or relaying 
readings to an other console. Tis ws done by writing a paper sticky 
note and walking to a central console. The color of coat identified 
the purpose of the note. The central console then gave pertinent 
instructions by radio to the capsule. The capsule, whci I didn't get 
to inspect, radioed reports to the central console, who then called an 
other console to get it to act on. 
    The mission, it seems, always ends safely, in spite of the dangers 
falling on it, like radiation storms, meteor showers, leaks, 
contamination of supplies. The flight ends after the capsule leaves 
Mars and reaches orbit again.
    The instructor congratualtes the two crews, coollects the coats, 
quickly checks the consoles for obvious malfunciton. He spoke with Mr 
kaye for a while, likely for school business. We went to the lunch 
room to get coats and bags, then headed home.
    On all of Steve's class trips the rule is to bring the students 
back to the school or, at worse, to the home station at Kings Highway. 
On all trips there are kids who whine that they want to jump train at 
other stations becuase it's easier to reach home. Steve tried to keep 
every one in the group, which is real, like real, hard for 40ish kids 
on a subway train. 
    The kids bleeded off one by one along the way until we were about 
20 lefton arriving at Kings Highway. These, it seemd, lived nearby to 
walk the rest of the way home. The best Mr kaye could do is ask who 
did get off and mark him on his roster. As long as the student left 
the train on purpose, not stranded or lost, he figured all was well. 
    Every one seemed to enjoy the trip and most did learn something 
about flying a plane and working a simple space flight. Most wanted to 
do the trip again in the next year. Steve could offer no promise but 
said he has to see how the year at school works out.
    The Center of Space Science Education in the Lower East Side is a 
hidden attraction for the New York City schools. It isn't publicized 
within the school system all that well. Steve, among the better 
informed techers, didn't hear about it until last in 2011. It was a 
member of NYC Events because it exhibited at a teacher's workshop, 
with NYSkies, at the Haydne Planetarium a couple years ago.
    The equipment and furnishings in the Center are well worn, yet in 
good repair. The narration in the aviation section was fast-paxed yet 
thoro and digestable. In the space flight section it had a moderate 
cadence due to the need for student interaction. In this section the 
computers and other props seemed adequate for the kind of displays and 
information flow they handled. They should be good for several years, 
barring breakdowns.
    I can appreciate that the Center is reserved for school groups. It 
functions for groups, not individuals or small parties of visitors. It 
really isn't laid out for a general public audienace.. As example, the 
restrooms are those of the adjoining school, reached by thru the 
school hallways. The public will not allow their bags and coats to be 
dumped intyto large tubs. It wants a proper coat and bag facility 
    The general public will get bored silly and walk out for the 
programs we went thru. According to the instructors and staff the 
program is about the same for all school groups with little need to 
shift it for different audiences.
    It is in a weird location, probably because the host junior high 
school was the location of opportunity when it was planned. There seem 
to be intent to relocate the Center to a more accessible or visible 
site, like a school property in midtown.
    On the whole this feature of the City education system does work 
resonably well. It's a day out of the classroom with good tuitional 
content in an entertainment dressing. If Steve runs an other trip, 
I'll happily work with it again.