Out Of This World

Developmentally disabled individuals in the Jamestown area are being given the chance to train like astronauts, thanks to a partnership between NASA and The Resource Center.

In 2012, The Resource Center began working with NASA to help modify its “Train Like An Astronaut” fitness program so that it could be effectively used with individuals who have physical and intellectual disabilities. Two employees from The Resource Center went to Houston, Texas in September to work on the project, and this week NASA sent Scott Townsend, a scientist educator for the NASA Human Research Program to Jamestown to observe and gather information on the adaptation of the program. Five day-habilitation programs in the area are participating in the “Mission X” challenge, in which teams from around the world compete against one another in a variety of fitness and science education activities.

According to Jeremy Cooper, activity leader of The Resource Center and team leader of the Fluvanna Fire Balls team at the Fluvanna day-habilitation program, the first step for the everyone was to begin learning more about space to make this more educational.

“It’s supposed to be for health and fitness, but a lot of people with developmental disabilities don’t understand what space is,” said Cooper. “By getting them involved and teaching them about the solar system, it makes them want to participate. As a team, we made a life-sized image of Astro Charlie, the mascot for Mission X, and it was after that that the participants started to really take an interest. Now we’ve started all of the exercise programs once they understood why they were doing what they were doing a little better.”

Outside of painting the life-sized Astro Charlie, participants at the Fluvanna day-program site also painted two space-themed paintings which were presented to Townsend when he was at the site on Tuesday to observe the program in action. The hallways were decorated to look like the solar system and other space themed items could be found throughout the site.

The teams at the five participating program sites will continue to refine the curriculum, which NASA hopes to roll out nationwide by this time next year for all individuals with developmental disabilities. NASA is also currently working together with the Special Olympics in order to incorporate this training in their program.

According to Cooper, Townsend will be in Jamestown for three days, visiting each of the day-program sites and observing different activities so that they can refine the program.

“The “Train Like An Astronaut” program is all based on health and fitness and well-being, so there is an educational component that we have to address,” said Cooper. “All of these activities are tied in with how the astronauts themselves train, and that background education that we include shows the participants not only how to train like an astronaut, but why they should train like this.”

The exercise portion of the program is one of the primary areas that will have to be adapted to the physical limitations of some of the participants. One of the exercises involves standing on one foot while bouncing a ball and catching it. According to Cooper, Mission X suggested using a tennis ball, but because some of the participants aren’t able to catch something that small the exercise was adapted to use bigger balls to bounce in order to make it more possible for the individuals with disabilities.

“We’ve done outreach events with the Special Olympics, but we also have a connection to this area through one of our employees at NASA because she’s from Jamestown,” said Townsend. “The people at The Resource Center have done such a fantastic job leading the charge, too. The “Train Like An Astronaut” program is already nationwide for able-bodied, general education elementary children. Hopefully by this time next year it will be out there for everyone, though. I don’t know where else would have been a better place for it to start other than Jamestown. That’s really why I’m here, to learn from the experts, and the experts are the workers here at The Resource Center. I’m blown away by what I’ve seen here already and I’m really excited to be here because this is just a great thing that they’re doing. This is a natural progression for the program even if it wasn’t our original intention.”

“It’s an honor to be the first agency in the world to pilot this program to help individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Cooper. “Hopefully by next year it will be nationwide, but it will have gotten its start right here in Jamestown.”