MORRILL — Anticipation built as Lukas Little Eagle pumped air into a plastic bottle partially filled with water while Valentino Ramirez lay on the ground next to the launch pad.
More intensity came as Little Eagle and NASA Nebraska Space Ambassador Jon Amundsen hurried away from the bottle. “Three. Two. One,” children’s voices squealed in unison. A pull of a string and the makeshift water rocket shot from the ground into the sky, leaving a trail of water soaking Ramirez’s head and inducing laughter and more squealing from the other students.
Children in the summer learning program at Tri-Community Preschool and Pride Cub Care in Morrill were treated to a presentation by Amundsen, a Bluffs Middle School science teacher who spends his summers as a space ambassador. Amundsen told the students about NASA and potential future missions to the moon and Mars. After the talk, the children were able to help launch water rockets and fizzy rockets — a smaller rocket using a plastic cannister with water and an activating tablet that removes the oxygen from the water, causing the cannister’s lid to pop off.
Jessi McLamb, director of the extended summer learning program, said the program was the beginning of a week of space-themed education.
“Especially this year, after (the children) missed out on some school, we also have an education component that we’re doing,” McLamb said. “It gets them out of the house, and gets them doing things they typically wouldn’t be doing in their classrooms.”
Being a space ambassador has afforded Amundsen the opportunity to bring space to children in many locations, and has given him the chance to learn as well.
“It takes me to some wonderful places around the country,” he said. “We get to go to NASA every now and then. My job as a space ambassador is to bring back knowledge from NASA and information from NASA to teach to their classroom, so they can set up activities and launch rockets for their own rooms. I just give them a general idea to help develop that S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) for their classroom so they can use it throughout the area. I’ve been truly blessed to be a part of what I’ve been doing so far.”
Amundsen has been a space ambassador for about seven years and multiple times during rocket launches exclaimed how he loves what he does.
He said, “I love working with kids and seeing their imaginations run wild and sparking that interest about science and space in general. I love sharing it with my family and the community as well.”
Amundsen, who brought along daughter Chloe as a helper, grew up in Morrill, and his mom lives just down the street from the grade school.