Teachers in Space, America’s next great astronaut program, will take a big step forward this summer. On July 18, Teachers in Space will announce the first six Pathfinder astronaut candidates. The announcement will be made at the NewSpace 2009 Conference, taking place at NASA Ames Research Center from July 17 to July 20.
“Teachers in Space wants to put a thousand astronaut teachers into American schools, within the next decade,” said TIS project manager Edward Wright. “The Pathfinder astronauts will be the leaders, the first astronaut teachers to fly in space and return to the classroom. Last year, teachers from all across America applied for the chance to become a Pathfinder astronaut. Teachers in Space has evaluated hundreds of applications. Narrowing the pool has been a difficult task. We have many high-quality applicants who we’re sure will fly in space eventually. This summer, we will announce the six teachers who are finalists for the first two Pathfinder astronaut flights.”
Teachers in Space was originally a NASA program, announced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, to fly a teacher aboard the Space Shuttle. The NASA program came to an end after the Challenger accident. It was eventually replaced by the Educator Astronaut program but the original goal of returning teachers to the classroom was lost. Instead, the Educator Astronaut program takes teachers out of the classroom to become permanent members of the NASA astronaut corps.
Now, Teachers in Space is being revived in the nonprofit sector. The new Teachers in Space is a joint project of the Space Frontier Foundation and the United States Rocket Academy. Instead of using the Space Shuttle, the new Teachers in Space project is working with private companies that are developing low-cost, reusable spacecraft for suborbital flights. These new spacecraft promise dramatic improvements in cost and safety. Because of these improvements, the new Teachers in Space aims to fly many teachers, instead of just one. “Our long-term goal is to fly 200 teachers a year — four from each and every state in the union,” Wright said. “We want children from all across America to grow up talking about the astronaut teacher who inspired them to learn math and science.”