Youth attending one of Northeastern State University's Summer Youth Academies are taking a deep dive into the final frontier, as NSU's Space-NASA camp kicked off this week.

Part of NSU's Continuing Education and Robotics Academy of Critical Engagement, the camp was designed to give students a glimpse of space exploration and human's ever-expanding reach into the cosmos. Tuesday, the students used foam, rubber bands, string, zip ties and index cards to build JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) rockets.

"It's based on a shoestring budget," said Tabitha McIntyre, camp instructor. "It's really cool how NASA gives us all of these lessons. For this one, it's actually a really large math lesson that you can use to teach angles. Of course, we're at space camp, so we're not going to do all the math for that. Instead, we're going to focus on who's goes farthest."

The lessons and activities were developed my NASA to get students interested in engineering, but the students at NSU's Space-NASA camp were interested in it when they signed up.

Jaylean Jeffries is the only girl participating in the space camp this week, but she said it doesn't bother her, because one day she plans on designing real rockets.

"I want to work at NASA one day," she said. "I've always liked the stars - what the Lord made - and looking at them. I've had that dream since I was 6. I know what college I'm going to and I've got it all planned out. I want to be a head engineer."

After designing the initial rockets, the students went down to the lawn outside of Bagley Hall to test them. Some rockets flew while others crashed during the takeoff. The group of campers then returned to their lab to improve upon their work. One students asked if they could create a miniature rocket out of their old one?

"Why not?" said McIntyre. "You're using the same supplies, but you're using your engineering skills to do that."

At most summer camps or youth academies, the parents don't find out what their children were up to until they pick them up. At NSU's summer youth academies, though, parents get to see what projects their kids are working on through the Seesaw app, a platform for student portfolios and family connections.

"We do the Seesaw app, because it's more intimate than doing everything on Facebook and having parents like our Facebook page," said McIntyre. "They are in charge of taking pictures, they're in charge of taking videos, they record, make notes and everything like that. So each child's parent gets a code and they get to see everything they did."

The students were challenged to create a village on Mars. Ethan Justice's Saturn habitat included 16 houses, a grocery store, and a giant farm for food.

"There were these little tiny robots that we coded, and we made our own little tiny village on Saturn," said Ethan. "We drew lines to make it go wherever we wanted, because the robot would follow the thick lines."

Traveling to a distant planet can require extensive materials, so room on a space shuttle would be limited. The students were tasked with deciding what materials and possessions - confined to a small box - they would take with them on a deep space voyage. Morgan Johnson said the group originally had multiple objects they wanted to bring, like four Xbox systems. Eventually, they narrowed it down to the essential items, like only one Xbox.

"We took an Xbox, a mini TV, and a Kindle instead of bringing a lot of hardcover books, which would take up space," said Morgan.

He said he also wanted to make room in the box for his cat, Gary. Although there were many camps around the area to choose from, Johnson said the space camp was right up his alley.

"I've always liked space," he said. "I love stellar, stellular objects and I love studying deep space. I watch space documentaries with my mom sometimes. It's just fun to come to a camp where everybody likes space. This is really a fun camp. I've really been enjoying it."

Check it out

For more information about the NSU Summer Youth Academies, visit www.nsuok.edu.