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International Space Station Education Inspiration
10.15.12
 
Cover of the Education publication, Inspiring the Next Generation: International Space Station Education Opportunities and Accomplishments 2000-2011. (NASA) Cover of the Education publication, Inspiring the Next Generation: International Space Station Education Opportunities and Accomplishments 2000-2012. (NASA)
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Students from Charminade College Preparatory, West Hills, Calif., run preliminary variations of their experiment in the lab. (SSEP) Students from Charminade College Preparatory, West Hills, Calif., run preliminary variations of their experiment in the lab. (SSEP)
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On Dec. 9, 2009, the Zero Robotics pilot teams observed the demonstration of their code running on the SPHERES robots aboard the space station. On Dec. 9, 2009, the Zero Robotics pilot teams observed the demonstration of their code running on the SPHERES robots aboard the space station. (MIT)
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In the 1960s, the innovators responsible for missions to the moon inspired homemade space helmets and backyard bottle rockets that sent toy soldiers a bit shy of low-Earth orbit. The innovations of the International Space Station, however, provide a more direct approach to opportunities for the next generation as they watch, learn and even participate in today's missions.

For more than a decade, the space station has provided hands-on educational opportunities that encourage students to go beyond passive learning, engaging them as interactive participants. The recently published, Inspiring the Next Generation: International Space Station Education Opportunities and Accomplishments, 2000-2012, compiles these efforts to share with the public.

"In the past 12 years of operation, there have been more than 42 million students, 2.8 million teachers and 25,000 schools from 44 countries involved in education activities aboard the space station," said Camille Alleyne, International Space Station assistant program scientist.

The publication was an international effort; a product of the International Space Station Benefits for Humanity initiative. It details opportunities available today for students, and summarizes those already completed. The comprehensive account includes education projects led by the various station partners, including NASA, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

Competitive student opportunities leverage real research to explain the depths of the scientific process, making learning fun. For instance, there is the SPHERES ZeroRobotics challenge, which focuses on software programming skill development to guide robots through a virtual obstacle course aboard the space station. There are also contests that allow students to have their experiments performed on orbit, such as those proposed for the YouTube SpaceLab competition. This inquiry-based learning approach engages students and their communities, enabling them to contribute to the growing knowledge gained from research done aboard station.

"These are activities that involve an investigative approach to learning," Alleyne said. "This allows students to understand the true nature of science; gain in-depth knowledge of scientific concepts, laws, and theories; and develop interests, attitudes and 'habits of mind' related to science and mathematics."

Other opportunities for station interaction include question-and-answer sessions via the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, which lets students contact astronauts on the station via ham radio. In-flight education downlink sessions through the NASA Education Office also enable student-crew communications, using live video feeds so communities can see the astronauts while speaking with them.

"Of course education activities are not the reason we built the space station," said Alleyne. "But its presence offers the benefit of involving students in space exploration, which in turn serves to engage them more fully in their studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

There are growing commercial opportunities, such as the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, or SSEP, in coordination with NanoRacks. This program provides opportunities for elementary and middle school students to propose and launch their own investigations to the space station.

The education publication prints in hardcopy this October, but readers can download it now via the International Space Station Research and Technology website.

 
 
Jessica Nimon
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center