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Students from eight different Missoula County Public Schools helped themselves to NASA stickers and an assortment of snacks as they gathered for an event to celebrate Missoula’s after-school programs recently.

Missoula’s “Lights On” event was one of more than 8,000 celebrations of after-school programs across the nation that keep the lights on and doors open for students after school.

Students in the Flagship programs attended this year’s space-themed event at the University of Montana’s University Center Theatre, where they listened to speakers and watched “Earthrise,” a film about Apollo 8 astronauts who captured the first image of Earth from outer space.

After the film, Bryan Von Lossberg took the stage to talk about his experience working on the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars Pathfinder mission. Lossberg, president of Missoula City Council and parent of a Flagship student, worked as an engineer for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1990s.

Lossberg discussed the importance of space photography and his role in fixing the camera of the Hubble Space Telescope, which initially returned blurry pictures due to a flaw in the curvature of the mirror on the camera.

He said he hoped the film would give kids perspective. “In Earthrise, you see the astronauts who saw the earth from the perspective of being at the moon,” Lossberg said. “It’s a life-altering experience to see something like that. It changes the way you look at things and I think it changes the way you look at yourself.”

Lossberg said he hopes that students takeaway the idea that STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — can be a gateway to discover beauty in the natural world. Jen Fowler, a physicist who works with the NASA-affiliated Montana Space Grant Consortium at the University of Montana, also discussed opportunities in STEM. She shared a slideshow that explained a weather ballooning program at UM and highlighting the students from Montana who have worked with NASA.

“If you notice through all these programs, I’ve worked with a lot of teams and the key part of all of these teams is that we supported each other,” Fowler said. “So whether you’re into science or something else, whether it’s poetry or music, support one another.”

Prior to the event, Flagship collaborated with the UM Media Lab to record a conversation with Apollo 8 space mission commander Frank Borman, a Billings native who was featured in “Earthrise.”

Five students attended a session at the Media Lab to record the conversation and produce a video with the audio.

“What is the emotional and psychological impact of knowing that you are drifting through space and one of the first to go around the moon?” asked Maxwell Shaver, a Hellgate High School student.

“Looking back at the Earth was the most emotional part of the whole flight,” Borman said. “As we prepared the flight plan, we hadn’t even given any allocation of photography for looking back. We were supposed to take all the pictures of the moon. But the Earthrise, that was the high point from an emotional standpoint of the whole flight.”

The video featured photos of the students asking questions, juxtaposed with a cutout photo of Borman placed over a space backdrop.

Nicolle Mitchell, Missoula Flagship’s program manager, said she got the idea for the space theme when she was listening to an episode of the “This American Life” podcast about the Apollo 8 space mission. Mitchell thought “Lights On” would be a good opportunity to screen “Earthrise” and bring Borman to speak.

Borman wasn’t able to make the event, which led Mitchell to partner with the Media Lab to make the video. The activity is just one of the ways Flagship partners with the University and community organizations to keep kids active outside of school.

Flagship serves more than 1,700 students in Missoula each year, with more than 400 free after-school and summer programs. Flagship offers programs to students at Franklin, Hawthorne and Lowell elementary schools; Meadow Hill, Washington and C.S. Porter middle schools; and Hellgate and Willard high schools.

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K-12 Education