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NASA Awards $4 Million Through New Space Grant KIDS Opportunity

Students from Chesterfield Career and Technical Center in Chesterfield, VA calculate plant growth measurements and monitor environmental conditions for their basil plants for the Plant the Moon Challenge.n

NASA is awarding more than $4 million to institutions across the U.S. to help bring the excitement of authentic NASA experiences to groups of middle and high school students who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in STEM.

The new Space Grant K-12 Inclusiveness and Diversity in STEM (SG KIDS) opportunity will boost these students’ sense of belonging in STEM subjects, a critical first step toward STEM degrees and careers.

SG KIDS is a pilot program made possible through NASA’s National Space Grant and Fellowship Project, which comprises Space Grant Consortia led by an institution in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. This opportunity represents a new approach by asking the awarded consortia to reach beyond state boundaries to create regional projects tailored to students in those areas. Through partnerships, the awardees will be able to share these exciting STEM opportunities with students residing in other states.

“Through Space Grant KIDS, we’ve asked the nation’s Space Grant consortia to deploy educational activities across state lines to share the excitement of NASA and STEM with students who otherwise might not have that opportunity,” said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement, which administers NASA Space Grant. “We’re looking forward to seeing how these regional partnerships will make a lasting difference for the Artemis Generation.”

SG KIDS addresses the White House Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, as well as NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s focus on providing authentic STEM opportunities to K-12 students.

The projects funded under SG KIDS will provide students with hands-on experiences and lessons that bring NASA’s missions to life, provide training and resources to the educators teaching those students, and boost the STEM ecosystem in these regions.

“Space Grant KIDS is designed to establish networks that deliver enriching NASA STEM experiences to underserved student populations,” said Dr. Erica Alston, NASA’s deputy Space Grant manager. “We can leverage these networks to reach traditionally overlooked groups in future DEIA efforts.”

Each of the four grantees, Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Georgia Space Grant Consortium, Ohio Space Grant Consortium and Texas Space Grant Consortium, will receive approximately $1,050,000 in cooperative agreements to put their proposals into action during the next three years. The grantees and their proposed projects are:

Old Dominion University Research Foundation, Norfolk, Virginia

NASA Space Grant Plant the Moon Challenge

Student teams will get hands-on planetary science experience as they design experiments to grow plants in a simulated version of lunar soil, called regolith, through the NASA Space Grant Plant the Moon Challenge. The project significantly expands the reach of the original Plant the Moon Challenge, developed by the Institute for Competition Sciences, and adds Artemis mission-relevant activities and experiences, provides a state coordinator, and adds a teacher professional development component, as well as a stipend for educators to cover materials costs.

“Not only are students learning fundamental skills in conducting sound scientific experiments, they’re learning about space mission architectures and gaining hands-on experience in conducting real scientific research that may be valuable to NASA and the scientific community,” said Mary Sandy, director of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium through Old Dominion University.

Partners include the Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortia, as well as the Institute for Competition Sciences.

“All six states offer strong leadership to implement the project and are well poised to contribute to meeting the participant target of schools with high numbers of underrepresented and/or underserved students,” Sandy said.

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Inspiring NASAs Next Generation through Building, Coding, and Machine Learning Missions (NASA ML-Bots)

NASA ML-Bots will teach the fundamentals of coding, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to middle- and high-school students in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The program will provide students firsthand experience in machine learning and artificial intelligence (ML/AI) as they design and operate a robotic rover through an obstacle course.

“NASA ML-Bots aims to increase access to opportunities for underrepresented and underserved students in the high-demand and high-paying fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Dr. Steven Ruffin, director of the Georgia Space Grant Consortium through the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Partners include the Alabama Space Grant Consortium; LaSTEM (an affiliate of the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium); University of Tennessee Chattanooga (an affiliate of the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium); Morehouse College and the Atlanta University Center; Mercer University in Macon, Georgia; and the Hines Family Foundation.

“Creating a sustainable and diverse workforce pipeline in the area of ML/AI for robotic systems is necessary to achieving NASA’s future exploration goals for the Moon, Mars, and beyond,” Ruffin said. “The curriculum and collaboration established by this NASA support will have lasting impact in K-12 educator capabilities and student skills for years to come.”

Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland

Stepping Stars: A Multi-State Middle and High School Space Grant STEM Engagement Project

Stepping Stars will introduce middle and high school students to the concepts of biomimicry, an approach that takes inspiration from success in the natural world and applies it to engineering and problem-solving. Through a combination of curriculum and hands-on activities, students will learn about nature-inspired design and how it aligns with NASA’s missions and research, and educators will gain training and newly developed resources to teach biomimicry in their own classrooms.

“This project will harness biomimicry topics to illustrate ways NASA researchers look to nature for engineering inspiration,” said Robert Romero, director of the Ohio Space Grant Consortium through the Ohio Aerospace Institute. “For example, we’re designing programs about the incredible strength of a material like spider’s silk, and how NASA might use bioproduction to manufacture materials used in spaceflight and travel.”

Partners in the Stepping Stars project include the Ohio, New York, and Nebraska Space Grant Consortia, as well as Akron Zoo, Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, Ithaca Sciencenter, the Nebraska Department of Education, and Nebraska’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Through these partners, the project will reach underserved communities including Native American, Black, and Hispanic populations.

“Students in underserved populations might not know they have the skill sets to pursue STEM,” Romero said. “It’s important to inspire them to pursue STEM careers, because as a nation, we need to tap into as much scientific and engineering talent as we can.”

University of Texas at Austin

Space Teams Labs: Engaging, Inspiring, and Training a Diverse and Inclusive Future STEM Workforce

Through Space Teams Labs, students will be immersed in high-fidelity, interactive space mission activities through virtual reality (VR) technology. The project aims to provide and install hardware and software for at least 50 Space Team Labs in schools, museums, youth centers, university partner spaces, and other locations reaching underserved students. Each Space Team Lab includes two computers, VR headsets, SpaceCRAFT software, and learning materials, as well as access to the Space Teams portal. The project will introduce students to a wide range of NASA STEM topics, including planetary science, spacecraft design and assembly, orbital mechanics and remote sensing, surface exploration, and more.

“Building spacecraft, flying to other planets, and exploring them are concepts made relatable through the VR of Space Teams – concepts that were science fiction not long ago,” said Dr. Tim Urban, director of Texas Space Grant Consortium through the University of Texas at Austin. “Our hope is that students get so excited about the activities that they forget that they are learning along the way, and then want to continue studying and working in the space STEM fields.”

The Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana Space Grant Consortia are working together on the project.

“Our states are similar in that we have a lot of students in underserved populations that we hope to reach. Geographically we are close, which will help in the deployment of the Space Teams Labs,” Urban said. “All of the Space Grants run amazing programs and have wide networks. We feel privileged to join forces to amplify our voice through SG KIDS.”

Space Grant is a national network of colleges and universities working with affiliated organizations and institutions to expand opportunities for students to participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space initiatives. The project engages students and educators from elementary to secondary levels through hands-on experiences, faculty development, curriculum enhancement, and precollege education. In fiscal year 2021, Space Grant awarded $44.5 million in cooperative agreements to institutions across the 52 Space Grant Consortia.

To learn more about NASA Space Grant or to find the consortium director and website for your state, visit: