Teachers, Astronauts Share 'NEAT' Qualities
Inspirational. Committed. Dedicated.

All of these adjectives describe the men and women of the Astronaut Corps who have devoted their lives to the discovery of our galaxies and inspiring the next generation of explorers as members. They also are shared with another profession, one also requiring deep commitment and dedication: teachers.

At a recent NEAT workshop hosted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., teachers conducted science experiments during a simulated Space Shuttle mission. Image right: At a recent NEAT workshop hosted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., teachers conducted science experiments during a simulated Space Shuttle mission. Image credit: NASA/MSFC

NASA's new Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers program, or NEAT, brings together a group of outstanding teachers whose interest and passion for space and leadership in the classroom inspired them to apply for the Astronaut Corps. Through workshops and seminars at NASA centers across the country, the program is enhancing educators' skills to convey the importance of math and science education to their students, and is demonstrating and encouraging them to share innovative methods for teaching technical subjects. The program also supplies classroom materials for students. NEAT keeps teachers informed about future career opportunities for their students in the space program, and how best to prepare students for those opportunities.

The Network of Educator Astronauts Teachers program was initiated by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in June 2003 as a result of the overwhelming number of nominees for the Educator Astronaut Program. The program consists of approximately 200 educators chosen from more than 8,000 who applied for three Educator Astronauts openings in this year's astronaut class. Those 200 were selected by an educator peer-review panel. NASA kicked off the NEAT program in June when 160 of the 200 teachers participated in a workshop at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. All NEAT participants remain eligible to compete for future Educator Astronaut openings, as long as they stay active in the classroom.

"These are some of the most talented, committed teachers in the nation," said Tammy Rowan, a NASA education specialist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "It’s our intent to keep them engaged with NASA, and to keep the value of space exploration front and center in their classrooms."

"Participating in NEAT has been a tremendous resource for lesson plans and curriculums for my students," said Michael Gullo, an astronomy teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh, who recently attended a three-day NEAT workshop hosted by the Marshall Center. "By expanding my knowledge of space research, solar exploration and the history of the space program, I hope to convey to my students the importance of math and science and what doors it can open."

NEAT activities and workshops for teachers are not just limited to listening to speakers and programs. Teachers also experience hands-on astronaut "training." During their workshop in Huntsville, the teachers trained and completed a simulated Space Shuttle mission using Shuttle, International Space Station and Mission Control mock-ups. The practice simulations at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville gave the teachers an inside look at the different roles that ensure a safe and successful Shuttle mission, while highlighting the importance of teamwork in the space program. "Completing a Shuttle mission -- even if just a simulation -- demonstrates to me first-hand the need for a math and science background," said Gallo. "Hopefully I can pass that on to my students."

Jason Petula, an earth science teacher at Tunkhannock High School in Clarks Summit, Pa., expressed excitement about returning to his classroom after the workshop. "Participating in the NEAT program has given me insight into what is available to my students," he said. "While I’m learning about student internship programs, classroom projects about space travel and engineering and Web-based learning experiences for the students, I can’t help but get excited about helping to expand their horizons.

"Programs like NEAT benefit the student experience beyond what we can measure," he added, "helping us give them chances they would otherwise not have."

For more information about the Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers or the Educator Astronaut Programs, please visit:


Martin Jensen, Marshall Space Flight Center