6th-Graders Polishing Mirrors for Satellite

When it comes to polishing mirrors, a squirt of Windex and a few swipes usually to do the trick. But when the mirror is to be mounted on a satellite and blasted into the heavens, the directions get a bit more specific.

First, said Nancy McIntyre, a science teacher visiting sixth-graders at Our Lady of the Valley school to explain the project, rub the mirror against fine sandpaper in a clockwise direction. No scritch-scratching back and forth. And keep applying even pressure.

Michael Korenyi, 12, anxiously eyed the tiny round mirror on his desk. He glanced at a classmate, 11-year-old Nikole Shellabarger, who was already bent over another mirror, carefully polishing in tight circles. Michael gingerly pressed the mirror against the grainy paper and began to rub.

In May, one of the mirrors polished by the students will be part of a small satellite sent into space aboard a NASA space shuttle. The shuttle will release the satellite--imagine a shiny disco ball coated with 875 aluminum mirrors--into orbit, where it will be used to calculate atmospheric density.

"It's starting to look like a mirror, isn't it?" McIntyre, who teaches at Chaminade High School in West Hills, said after each of the 28 students had tried their hand at polishing. "Cool. Keep going."

The endeavor, known as Project Starshine, is being supervised by Gil Moore, an adjunct physics professor at Utah State University. Moore has shipped hundreds of mirrors to schools all over the world, from Finland to Pakistan. Some teachers, like McIntyre, have shown students at multiple schools how to polish.

"We thought it would be fun if they could get their hands dirty," Moore said. Later, using a Global Positioning System receiver that records latitude and longitude, students will be able to "go out and track the satellite.

"They can look up into the starlit sky and the satellite will be sailing around up there, still catching the sunlight," he said. "It will be as bright as the North Star."

Ideally, Moore said, students stationed all over the globe will feed their data into computers linked to Moore's Internet site.

"It's pretty cool," said Kyle Reilly, 11, who wants to be an astronaut. When the satellite is finally assembled and sent into space, he said, "We'll pinpoint the time with our computers so I'll be watching to see it."

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