TO MARS VIA LOWER EAST SIDE ------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc nyskies!nyskies.org www,nyakies.org 2012 March 17
Introduction ---------- 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 York. 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 there. 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.
Aerodynamics ---------- 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.
Homeward ------ 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.
Conclusion -------- 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.