Countdown to Houston: Merle Dijk wins ticket to NASA!

Merle Dijk spent two weeks this summer behind the scenes of space agency NASA in Houston, America. The reason? She won Twente’s space competition ‘Countdown to Houston’, organised by the United Space School and Twente Board’s programme for labour influx in technology. Merle: “I am very interested in engineering. I’m considering studying mechanical or civil engineering, so this competition was a good fit for me!”

Merle van Dijk was one of the two winners of this competition. She was in 5 VWO at CSG Reggesteyn in Nijverdal at the time of the competition and competed on behalf of her school. The unique prize? A visit to NASA.

Invent a unique gadget

The finalists, including Merle, were winners of previous preliminary rounds at the five Technasia in Overijssel. Merle: “For the final, we were tasked with presenting an idea for a unique gadget that astronauts could take with them and use during the planned moon landing with the Artemis III in 2025.” The finalists presented their ideas in a video pitch. Merle won the absolute top prize with her unique and creative idea and accompanying inspiring presentation: the trip to Houston.

Proving the impossibility of sound

Merle enthusiastically explains her winning gadget: “In space, and therefore also on the moon, sound is impossible. The atmosphere there is far too small for that, so there is no possibility for sound waves to travel. Not many people know this, so I thought it would be interesting and fun to focus on this with my gadget.” To prove this, and also to explain it directly to a lot of people who have no idea about this, Merle came up with an experiment: “I presented a microphone with a speaker, as a recognisable way to show what we can do with sound here on Earth and not in space.” It was not so much about the actual functioning of the gadget, stresses Merle: “It’s more about the idea behind the gadget.” It was not just the gadget that convinced the jury to declare Merle one of the two Dutch prize winners. The jury was also impressed by the persuasiveness of her experiment. Merle was able to use its effectiveness and simplicity to disprove the myth that sound would be possible in space and on the moon in one fell swoop. Merle was a bit nervous about the presentation: “But the atmosphere during the final was quite relaxed. I felt more of a normal, healthy tension.”

Houston, here we come!

Merle, together with the other Dutch winner, Daan Pluimers, and 50 students from all over the world, followed a United Space School programme on space exploration starting on the 13th of July, 2023. Merle: “I had an amazing two weeks! We met astronauts and got to help prepare a manned trip to Mars, among other things. We also attended many presentations from people who had previously worked at NASA.” Merle conducted research in groups, for example, regarding the health of astronauts. She also gained a new understanding of astronauts: “I thought they were pilots, mostly, but they are broadly trained engineers who contribute a lot to the technical preparations for the moon journey in 2025. It was also special to see that you need an entire team to supervise the astronauts, but they need to do a lot themselves, too.”

Interesting insight into American culture

The students were immersed in space travel during the two weeks through lectures by space engineers, scientists, and astronauts, among others. Merle: “We stayed with host families, and I was in a family with a French girl. This also introduced us to American culture and daily life in Houston. Everything is so much bigger and different there than in the Netherlands.” Merle went through the two weeks of the United Space School programme with students from all kinds of countries: “It was great fun, sociable and educational. We will probably meet up in Wales for a weekend in the coming autumn holiday as a reunion with the participants from Europe. And maybe we will meet all the participants, including those from outside Europe, again next summer in Barcelona.”

Interest in engineering and technology

Merle is now in her final year at CSG Reggesteyn in Nijverdal. Is she actually captivated by engineering and technology, or was taking part in ‘Countdown to Houston’ a one-off foray into engineering? Merle: “I am definitely interested in engineering. I’m considering studying mechanical or civil engineering, so this competition fit me well!”

Date: 28 September 2023 |

Source of tekst: Merle Dijk |

Author: Paul Spendel

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