By Justyna Zubrycka, Germany. On secondment in Bucharest, Romania.
The first and, for many reasons, the most valuable experience during my visit in Bucharest were pilot Kerbal Workshops held by George Marusteru from Hatch Atelier makerspace. As was explained to me, Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulation video game, in which players must build a spaceship capable of flying its crew out without killing them. I was very excited to find out how on Earth a group of kids from 6 to 8 years old would manage to launch a rocket built by themselves!
I arrived to the school where the class was taking place and I met there Monica Mitarca, a partner in the Romanian MakEY team, who led me to the classroom, which was already full of very young future rocket scientists. They were even more excited than I was! George was running from one table to another, setting up the software on computers and preparing printed instructions for the spaceship assembly. The diversity of the participants was quite notable. We saw some boys running around the room, trying to get rid of impatient energy before starting the game, and some already focused, with quite serious faces, looking at quite complicated schematics. Children could also choose some other roles in the whole team, than playing cosmonauts – one girl and boy decided to document the workshops, shooting pictures with a camera placed on a tripod. We could see they took their mission with enthusiasm and engagement.
It took a while until the whole team was ready to start their great mission. At the beginning, each of the players looked a bit confused when reading the rocket assembly instructions on paper and then trying to match it with what they saw on the screen. I had the impression that children had difficulties in focusing on two mediums, printed and screen, at the same time. The moment they figured out the interface operated by Kerbals, a race of funny green humanoids, things seemed to start flowing much better. Together with Monica, we were observing how, step-by-step, with lots of trials, failures, and also chaotic, desperate movements, quite complex spacecrafts started to appear on the screens. Emotions among young scientists were growing together with the rockets. When those were ready to launch, some of the kids would express their excitement very loudly and vividly, like football fans seconds before the goal!
One after another, rockets were launched into space. Kids were running from one screen to another to witness all of it and see whether the rockets failed or not. Once each of the spaceship was floating in the air, one could see how exhausted everyone had become. These were a pretty intense few hours! Mission accomplished. Results: feeling of empowerment and accomplishment. Bravo!