As NASA's Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan addressed 300 sixth grade students from Berkeley Middle School in Williamsburg, Va., she recapped how, weeks earlier, Expedition 38 NASA Flight Engineers Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio performed spacewalks to fix a cooling system that had failed on the International Space Station.
“The astronauts up there are doing amazing work,” Stofan said. “They’re not only maintaining this amazing facility that we have that’s orbiting the Earth every day gathering all kinds of scientific data, but they’re also doing experiments, reaching out to students all around the globe talking about science and how science education is so important.”
A few minutes later, those same students got to speak with Hopkins during a live Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) event.
Visibly excited, 10 students lined up to ask astronaut Hopkins questions about what it’s like to live in space.
After hearing some of Hopkins’ experiences, Brenner Beard, a 12-year-old with a passion for science and math, left the event inspired and excited for the future.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Beard said. “I’m going to take this with me wherever I go in life.”
The day before the Berkeley Middle School event, students from Denbigh High School's Aviation Academy in Newport News, Va., had the opportunity to have a live video chat with Mastracchio.
Also known as an ISS In-flight Education Downlink, the video conference is designed to provide a unique experience of human space flight while promoting and enhancing science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education.
“Kids can see what kind of jobs are out there besides the traditional professionals. For example, they actually see that there are engineers who need piloting experience,” said Dr. Aaron Smith, program director of the academy. “It allows them to create and be a part of the future.”
Smith experienced first-hand the anticipation that radiated throughout the school’s hallways.
“Every single kid I’ve talked to has been excited,” Smith said. “They’ve asked why haven’t we done this before and when can we do it again. Events like this change the dynamics of a child’s enthusiasm.”
Prior to the both the radio and video chat, education specialists from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the National Institute of Aerospace’s Center for Integrative STEM Education, also in Hampton, provided interactive learning experiences enabling students to gain a greater understanding of living and working in space.
“What a great opportunity for the students,” said Roger Hathaway, NASA Langley’s director of education. “Events like these help prepare our future workforce in STEM fields. It’s a challenge of all federal agencies and NASA’s taking that challenge on.”
NASA Langley Research Center