Educator Features

Central Park School Makes Call
01.20.05
The Central Park Middle School, NASA Explorer School, logo with New York state, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station on it
A future astronaut may be living right now in Schenectady, NY. And chances are that future astronaut attends Central Park Middle School. Central Park is a NASA Explorer School, and that means these students are very involved in space projects, space research, and space excitement.

Image to left: Central Park Middle School is the first NASA Explorer School in the state of New York. Credit: NASA

On January 7, Central Park students got a rare treat: they chatted with the crew of the International Space Station Expedition 10! Commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov answered their questions and gave the students a peek into life in space. The ISS Downlink was a live broadcast, with camera connections between the school and the Space Station. Students researched and prepared questions to ask Chiao and Sharipov.

"They're wonderful people," said Brielle, a Central Park seventh grader. "They were smiling and waving at us, and made us feel very welcome." Brielle asked the crew about the education they needed to qualify for their work. She learned that a bachelor's degree is the minimum, but most astronauts have master's degrees and beyond.

When sixth grader Katie asked how the Space Station is maintained, she found out that it's a lot of ongoing work, both inside and out in space. She'd like to work on experiments outside the Station if she gets into space. She's planning to study marine biology, which could lead to work in space, she says.

Student asking question to Expedition 10 Crew
Image to right: Garrett got to ask Dr. Chiao a question about the different types of weather in space and how it differs from the weather on Earth. Credit: NASA

How did students get the opportunity to speak live with the Space Station crew? You have to remember, that as a NASA Explorer School, these folks have already demonstrated their commitment to space exploration. Central Park Middle School is the first Explorer School in the state of New York. It has a long history of space involvement. Students developed an experiment that flew on STS-107, Space Shuttle Columbia, which tragically exploded in 2003. From there, they have also:
  • dedicated the Columbia Memorial Garden, a city-wide remembrance for the crew of STS-107


  • worked on NASA's Student Observation Network to learn how the sun affects everything in our lives


  • participated in the History Of Winter Program by studying snow, snowfall, types and temperatures of snow, differences between ice and snow, and how snow affects the environment. The students also explored how snow affects the operation of space satellites.


  • Seed samples for the SEM Satchel experiment
    Image above: The samples students sent up included beans, peas, sunflower, pumpkin and cucumber seeds. Credit: NASA
  • sent seed samples into space as part of the SEM Satchel experiment.

    Students hypothesized that seeds exposed to space will germinate quicker and grow more vigorously. They also thought about what this means for the future. Will space gardens feed space explorers? Can space plants help ease hunger on Earth? The students included beans, peas, sunflower, pumpkin and cucumber seeds in the experiment. Their cargo was sent to the International Space Station on board a Progress supply ship, and arrived on Christmas Day.
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  • traveled to NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to watch the launch of a rocket carrying an experiment 33 miles above the Earth. This experiment measured the effect of space on common liquids.


  • participated in numerous NASA-supported workshops, trips and conferences to learn more about working with space technology.
SEM Satchel
Image to left: The students SEM Satchel was sent to the ISS on board a Progress supply ship. Credit: NASA

"Our students love being an Explorer School," says Rita Moore, NASA Explorer School team leader and school librarian at Central Park. "Their enthusiasm and their research make a winning combination."

Just ask sixth grader Brittany and seventh grader Carlton, and they'll tell you that being part of an Explorer School is worth the time they spend.

"I've learned what it takes to become an astronaut," says Brittany. "I'd love to be in a lab up in space, work on the machines, and explore the Space Station."

"Anyone can learn more," says Carlton. "Go to the library, read, go online, and do research. At school, go to your science teacher and say you want to learn more. It's all there."

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Maggie Griffin/MSFC