Jump onboard for the upcoming International Space Station EarthKAM opportunity. Middle years schooling is an ideal area to incorporate space science, geography and some juicy maths. Students upload photo requests to the remote camera onboard the ISS. The images are then made available for student investigation and analysis.
How do I get to be an astronaut?
Can you eat spaghetti and runny sauce in space?
How does your work benefit mankind?
How do you prepare for a mission and how long does it take?
What do you miss most about home?
These were just some of the amazing and interesting questions that K-6 students at Mt Ousley Public School (audio and footage on this link) were able to ask Commander Kevin Ford on the International Space Station between 7:35 and 7:45 UTC on March 12 2013. Before parents, community and their intrigued peers 14 students got to ask the science questions of a lifetime. For those present it was a fun, absorbing and important space science and education moment that demonstrated that we can break down global boundaries to inspire and educate tomorrow’s future scientists.
Through ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) and NASA partnerships and more than 8 months of planning a great science event was accessible to all. Importantly the event gave the school cause to investigate and explore science and space concepts in valid and engaging fashion.
When you tell each class that they need to formulate questions and research space they get get interested. When you empower the class as a whole to pick the most interesting question they feel valued. When the student who wrote that question gets to stand up on the big night and ask that question they are excited. When they hear the crackle of radio static and then Commander Kevin Ford talking from the ISS as it passes over Italy at 27000km/hr and 450km above the Earth they are fascinated and empowered. Likewise the adults watching and the listeners via the Internet and the NASA feed feel connections to space and human endeavour.
Programs such as this are essential on many fronts. Firstly the educational benefit cannot be underestimated; students researching and questioning with purpose! They will be talking to an astronaut who is the expert, right there, right now living the dream and exploring and experimenting in space!
Secondly, this is real science with real learning, the live contact creates immediacy and urgency; a moment to be savoured.
Thirdly, we live in a global society. We surf the web, chat and use social media (as do the NASA astronauts) to communicate. In finding answers we want our students to communicate (safely and responsibly) to whoever, wherever and whenever. We want to break down the walls and share with those can help us become better informed, responsible and effective global citizens.
Challenge, innovation, exploration – things we want our students engaged with to better prepare them for future careers and the future itself!
Sally Ride was America’s first woman in space being a crew member of Challenger STS-7. In later years she founded Sally Ride Science and until her death in July 2012 she was a major supporter of outreach science programs for students including though her own Sally Ride Science business arm.
Two key projects that have enabled middle school students worldwide to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our place in space are the established ISS EathKAM project along with the recently launched GRAIL Moonkam;. Both projects operate in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and allow students to request photographs from the ISS and Ebb and Flow GRAIL satellites.
I’ve used both programs over the past two years and have found that students greatly enjoyed the experience of logging onto the Student Mission Control Centre (SMOC) and using unique passwords to request specific location photos of either the Earth or the Moon’s surface.
Both platforms are web based which makes them easily accessible. They provide resources and guides for students to learn about orbits, day and night passes, camera distances and latitude and longitude. In both cases I had extension year 4-6 groups who responded enthusiastically to the concept of identifying a desired location on an available day orbit, requesting a photo, and then, in effect, controlling the camera shutter to take the image.
After the photos were taken, which took up to a week or more students were able to download their images for closer examination and interpretation. In MoonKAM craters, mountains, long shadows and the occasional technical error were all met with a smile. In EarthKAM images that greeted students included vast ocean stretches, the Australian outback near lake Eyre and sometimes a complete cloud layer.
Both programs offer students an insight into the vastness of space along with the scientific research and investigation goals of NASA and the technology of satellites and the ISS. Importantly, projects such as these foster in students a sense of curiosity and the knowledge that there is much out there to explore, comprehend and enjoy.
All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary. Sally Ride 1951-2012