Educator Features

A Royal Visit
During their historic visit to Jamestown, Va., to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, celebrated Captain John Smith's exploration tools, such as binoculars, his own eyes and a compass. They reflected upon the Captain's masterful use of his limited tools and the immense impact of his adventure. That same spirit of exploration was witnessed by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on Tuesday, May 8, 2007, 400 years after the forming of Jamestown.

The Queen greets NASA Administrator Mike Griffin
Image to right: Queen Elizabeth II, left, is welcomed by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Tuesday, May 8, 2007, in Greenbelt, Md., as one of the last stops on her six-day visit to the United States. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA's astronauts, scientists, engineers and other key contributors defy convention under NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, just like Captain Smith and his group of fearless colonists. Of course, in the four centennials past, explorers' tools have changed, but none more so than the tools used in investigating the solar system and the universe. For instance, light is one of NASA's essential tools. During a student workshop involving four Maryland schools and one university, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh learned the importance of light in human exploration.

A Maryland university and a high school student were on hand to represent NASA's education opportunities in exploration available to all. Their participation in the workshop provided private poster sessions for the royal party in which the students were available to describe their research projects and subsequent discoveries to the Queen and the Duke.

The remaining students, all middle school students and most from NASA Explorer Schools, investigated light as an exploration tool during a NASA education workshop, "Exploration: From Questions to Discoveries," designed by Goddard education experts. The workshop began a few hours prior to the royal party's arrival, engaging students in activities of discovery in how enabling technologies -- satellites, the Hubble Space Telescope and separation of colors of the electromagnetic spectrum -- contribute to life on Earth, as well as advance long-duration spaceflight.

The Education Workshop was designed to inspire students’ curiosity and increase their awareness, just as Captain Smith's understanding of the New World increased as he traversed its estuaries and waterways. For the day, students became explorers, pursuing answers to specific questions through a series of activities at each of three learning stations. Each answered questions posed to them: (1) What is the relationship between light and exploration? (2) Why do we use light to study Earth? (3) How do we use light to explore the Universe?

Queen Elizabeth receives flowers from children
"The workshop is an opportunity for the world to see the role NASA plays in educating the next generation of explorers," said Bonnie Eisenhamer, Hubble Space Telescope education program manager of Hubble Space Telescope Institute and workshop mentor.

Image to left: Queen Elizabeth greets children on her walk from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center mission control to a reception in the center's main auditorium, Tuesday, May 8, 2007, in Greenbelt, Md. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The visit to the learning stations gave each student a different perspective in the understanding of light as an exploration tool. For example, one station explained how light is used to help categorize galaxies. However, after students had discovered answers to their questions, their job was still incomplete. As much as explorers have the duty to investigate the unknown, it is equally important for them to share their knowledge and spread their understanding.

Just as Captain Smith reported to King James I, who granted a charter to colonize Virginia, the students of the NASA workshop shared the results of their expeditions with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Separately, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited each of three groups of middle school students, inquiring about the results of their explorations. Some students were able to demonstrate to the royal couple the use of light in mapping Earth via satellites.

"Getting to explain my research project to people of such importance is a great honor," said Michelle Steiner, a 2006-2007 Academic High School Intern who displayed a poster she designed titled, "Nebular Dust Analogs as Catalysts in Organic Molecule Product." "It is really an exciting, great way to end my school year and internship experience at NASA!"

In the end, NASA's expertise is in creating once-in-a-lifetime informative, educational and thrilling exploration opportunities. The participants of the NASA Education Workshop became explorers and scientists, much like John Smith and his crew were back in 1607. The students learned the importance of communicating and sharing discoveries, and, just as King James I did in 1607, the Queen of England listened to the young explorers, showed appreciation for their discoveries and granted them well wishes. Her acknowledgement could be just the boost to further propel the workshop participants and future NASA explorers on a new journey of discovery to the moon, to Mars and beyond.

For highlights of the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, visit

Amy Pruett/GSFC