Renowned NASA Scientist, Dr Gary McKay, was joined by 400 pupils, parents and guests at Cumnor House Sussex in Danehill, Haywards Heath on Saturday 25th February 2017 for the grand opening of ‘The Peake’, the school’s brand new state-of-the-art STEM facility, named after Tim Peake.

Before cutting the ribbon, Dr McKay provided a packed theatre audience with a fascinating insight into his life’s work as a world leading remote sensing scientist who has pioneered satellite mapping techniques throughout the world and in space and his work as a scientist at NASA.

“We are hugely privileged to have had such an eminent scientist opening ‘The Peake’ comments Christian Heinrich, Head Master at Cumnor House Sussex. During his half-hour talk he had the 250 children, aged between 8 and 13, on the edge of their seats. A forest of hands shot up when he opened the floor to questions which ranged from asking which planet is his favourite and why, whether he thinks Mars will ever support life, whether we’re likely to see time travel occurring in our lifetime, to what the many badges on his NASA jacket represented.”

“The icing on the cake for everyone at Cumnor House Sussex is the affirmation from Tim Peake in allowing us to associate his name with this incredible centre for the teaching of science, maths, engineering and technology”, Heinrich continues. “It is a facility that will not only be used by our own pupils, but also by Primary school pupils and teachers in the locality.”

During his talk, Dr McKay took the opportunity to highlight the very important part that the county of Sussex has played in the history of space discovery and exploration.

“We’re all familiar with Chichester-born Tim Peake, who has become a household name since becoming the first British ESA astronaut to visit the International Space Station last year”, comments Dr Gary McKay. “But delving a little deeper into the county’s history, it is fascinating to reveal just how space-centric Sussex really is. The late Sir Martin Ryle, one of the most important pioneers of radio astronomy was born in Brighton. While the late Piers Sellars OBE, a British-American meteorologist, veteran of three space shuttle missions as NASA astronaut and latterly Director of the Earth Science Division at NASA/GSFC was born in Crowborough. Then we have Herstmonceux which boasts its own world class Observatory Science Centre which operates out of the former home of The Royal Greenwich Observatory.”

Dr McKay told the children about the excitement he himself experiences when printing out a

3-D map of an area he has mapped – using Olympus Mons on Mars, the highest volcano in the solar system, as an example. When he reaches out and touches the image, he is transported to that place and is reminded of the multiple sciences that have been used to enable the projection of such an image.

He also spoke to them about the project he regards as NASA’s coolest – Project Kraken, which will involve sending a submarine to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, by 2040. Scientists are intent on finding out what lies beneath Titan’s largest northern Sea, Kraken Mare, which comprises liquid hydrocarbons.

The pupils and staff at Cumnor House Sussex are looking forward to continuing their association with Dr McKay as they adopt a pioneering schools programme which he has launched, that highlights the importance of creativity and innovation in helping to solve global problems using science, technology, engineering and maths.

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