Watch this space

Chris Fautley watches the launch in Kent of one of the largest rockets ever fired in the UK.

Dr Who look-alikes, astronauts, teachers dressed as aliens and Star Trek characters, office staff in radiation suits, and Year 8 painted green. Just another day at St Anselm's Catholic school in Canterbury.

Well, not quite: but then it isn't every day your school plays host to the largest rocket ever fired from mainland Britain. Starchaser IV is 10 metres high, produces six tons of thrust and accelerates from 0-100mph in 0.37 seconds. It has already made a test flight - albeit to a mere 1,677 metres - and one day it, or a successor, ought to put a person into space.

It belongs to Starchaser, who build rockets and whose aim is to take people on holiday in space. Each year, they happily share their vision with scores of schools. Which is how St Anselm's, a specialist science school, came to organise a space-themed day.

Throughout the day, every student had the chance to attend a video presentation by the Starchaser team. It's loud, it's inspirational, and you also learn about gravity, thrust, aerodynamics and wind resistance. At its conclusion, students adjourned to the playground to inspect the rocket at close quarters and fire questions at a Starchaser engineer.

Matthew Wright, assistant headteacher at the school, organised the day.

"The idea is to highlight science as being relevant to everybody," he said, adding that they also wished to approach it through other subjects. Thus all the day's time-tabled lessons had adopted a space theme.

The English department was looking at science fiction, history, the space race, space photography and light sources, with key stage 4 students preparing a montage of the day's activities; maths - the radius, orbit, volume and mass of planets; business studies - personalities that make up a team; psychology - the psychology of space travel; art - how space images are recorded.

Mr Wright added that he hoped students would become even more immersed in the concept by dressing up in costume: space-related prizes were on offer for the best. "Having such a big, visual object in the school is enough to create excitement among all the students," he continued. "It's all about raising achievement - not just in science, but across the whole school. And if that can be done by creating some real enthusiasm in one subject area that can spill out into others, then that's great."

Becky Parker is from the University of Kent's Science @ Kent Centre - one of St Anselm's learning partners. She was in school to see Starchaser IV.

"We've got to say to students that physics and space and science are brilliant," she said, observing that for some reason, students often do not think that. "I think it's inspirational. They are talking about, in their lifetime, going on holiday in space. How brilliant is that!"

Suffice to say, the first two tickets to space have already been sold - at a cool pound;250,000 each.

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