To the Editor:
If you’ve never met teachers Mike Kugler and Chris Bianco you perhaps have yet to meet teachers who epitomize the essence of educational dedication and professionalism. These two teachers – Mike is at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center and Chris heads the marine trades program at Toll Gate – represent the best of the best among vocational teachers in Rhode Island. These teachers’ recent hard work leading students in the design and construction of a large scale model of NASA’s Apollo 11 Command Module, the vehicle that took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon fifty years ago on July 20, 1969, shows clearly why they are loved and respected by students, parents and peers. Kugler, the center’s computer aided design and drafting (CADD) teacher, and Bianco, the marine trades teacher, began guiding their students through the design and construction of the complex command module back in April at the request of the Conimicut Village Association’s parade committee that is planning and organizing the Conimicut 50th Anniversary Moon Landing Parade that will march through Conimicut Village on July 20, 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing – mankind’s first visit to an extraterrestrial body.
From April until completion of the command module on June 17, Kugler and Bianco attacked the myriad problems associated with creating something totally alien to the schools’ normal projects, such as: how to mold building material to create the complex curves of the heat shield; how to simulate windows in the module without using glass; how to build a cradle that would hold the module at an angle to more closely depict reality; and many other problems. The process of solving new design and construction problems provided great teaching opportunities for the instructors to challenge their students to come up with innovative approaches – somewhat similar to what NASA engineers experienced back in the 1960s when they created the original command module. As the command module began to take shape and members of the parade committee began talking to other organizations about the parade, Barnaby Evans of WaterFire and Dr. Peter Schultz of Brown University’s NASA Space Grant heard about the nascent space vehicle being built at the school. Since Brown is co-sponsoring WaterFire the night of July 20th, an event that also will celebrate Earthlings’ first venture to a heavenly body, both approached the parade committee about displaying the command module and the committee’s model of the Saturn V Rocket currently being built by Boy Scout Troop 1, Conimicut. This brought new problems to the design and construction of the module. Lifting hooks had to be installed so the command module could be suspended in air for display. WaterFire expressed an interest in lifting the vehicle by crane and dropping it into the Providence River during the July 20 WaterFire in a “controlled splashdown” that would simulate the actual Apollo 11 splashdown in the Pacific 50 years ago. Logistical issues related to the “splashdown” are being ironed out to determine whether or not it will actually occur. More to follow on that. Finally, on June 17, the command module was ready for unveiling and transportation to the WaterFire Arts Center at 474 Valley Road in Providence. Once again, the two teachers displayed their problem-solving abilities as the school’s marine engine lift could not raise the command module high enough to get it onto the transporting flatbed trailer. Using various jacks, tackle pulleys, chains, and other tools, the Bianco and Kugler managed to get the module onto the trailer. The command module is now on display at the Waterfire Arts Center where it will be joined soon by the model of the Saturn V Rocket. Both space vehicles will be returned to trailers as floats that will be integral parts of the 50th Anniversary Moon landing parade, the only parade in the country on the moon landing’s 50th anniversary. The magnificent facsimile of the vehicle that took Earthlings to the moon for the first time is a tangible testament to the knowledge, expertise, dedication and professional abilities of these two outstanding teachers. Every Warwick citizen should be proud.