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Middle school students launch satellite into space to learn about the effects of the Gatlinburg wildfires

In June, the satellite launched off the International Space Station, with mission control down at a middle school.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — In middle school, most students craft paper mâché volcanoes or build models of the solar system. But in Oak Ridge, a group of middle schools launched their own satellite, now orbiting Earth.

Inside of a Robertsville Middle School classroom, there are many things people may not expect to find. Graphs of many kinds adorn the walls, analyzing telemetry, orbits and angles for their satellite.

"When you think of NASA and you think of satellites, you think of these scientists with PhDs who went to college to study for this and spent their whole lives working towards this goal," said Odelia Kneiser. "And me, as a 12-year-old, I think when I started on this, I got the opportunity to do that."

It launched off of the Internation Space Station in June and started sending back photos. The project started as a way to analyze the effects of the Gatlinburg wildfires, giving students an aerial view of how they changed the landscape.

"One of the big inspirations was to look at the Gatlinburg area and see how it's regrown over time," said Hudson Reynolds, who helped launch the satellite.

Now, mission control is located inside of a middle school classroom. There, students receive pictures from the satellite as it sails above cities like Atlanta and New Orleans. The starts haven't aligned to get any pictures of Gatlinburg yet, they said.

"All the mentors and instructors and students put in a huge amount of time," said Peter Thornton, an educator who helped the students with the project. "Oh, it's huge fun. Yeah. Now, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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