Training participants visit District of Columbia to discuss program
A non-profit group seeking to spur student excitement about science by sending teachers to space, announced today that it will recruit three more teachers for its astronaut corps.
Ed Wright, project director for Teachers in Space (TIS) took a break from intensive training for the organization’s first batch of teacher astronauts, to announce that the group will begin taking applications for teachers for an additional 3 slots. The first seven teacher astronauts are called the “Pathfinder 7” their selection came at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California in 2009 after teachers in Space went through many hundreds of teacher applications. The group underwent training in the summer of 2009 and finishing up training in 2010 with a trip to Washington where they have met administration officials as well as members of Congress.
Teachers in Space selects its astronaut teachers based on their demonstrated interest in space, as well as their proven effectiveness in teaching. “We want individuals who have a commitment to teaching in the classroom,” says Program Director Ed Wright, of Texas. “Our goal is to excite students about studying science and math by providing their teachers the opportunity to fly into space. This can only happen if that teacher returns to the classroom.”
“Already we are seeing our students excited by what we are doing,” says teacher Rachel Manzer, of 39, of East Hartland, CT. She is a district science coach in the Suffield School District. “What has surprised us is that during this trip, we are even seeing college students getting more excited about what we are doing.”
The Teachers in Space program has also begun generating some excitement in official Washington. The group has met with staff of Senators Bill Nelson, of Florida, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas. Glenn Rizner, Deputy Manager of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), charged with space systems development for the FAA’s commercial space transportation division attended the group’s press conference in Washington.
Rizner participated in discussions about the group’s training program, which included flights in a vertical wind tunnel with Skyventure, in Florida, and as well as actual skydiving. While most of the teacher astronaut candidates made tandem jumps, Jim Kuhl, a 54-year-old 6th grade Earth Science teacher from Syracuse, NY, and Robert “Mike” Schmidt, a 32-year-old math teacher from Tucson, AZ, made solo jumps from an altitude close to 12,000 feet.
The group visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as guests of NASA, visited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, and spoke with faculty and students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The previous year, the group toured space facilities of NASA and visited several entrepreneurial space companies in California. These companies, including XCOR Aerospace and Masten Space Systems, are participants with Teachers in Space and have donated future suborbital flights to the organization. The prospective astronauts have even been given glider lessons by former Astronaut and Space Shuttle commander Rick Searfoss.
The Pathfinder 7 teachers are quick to point out that in addition to participating in training for future space flights, they are also helping design the training curriculum for future participants in the Teachers in Space program. This not only includes the training of teachers, but developing other programs intended to bring the space experience to the classroom.
Ohio teacher Steve Heck, a record-holding Air Force pilot who opted for teaching as a second career, says the Teachers in Space program will not only fly teachers into space, but will provide students the option to send experimental packages into space. Masten Space Systems has designed a system that will allow students (as well as other scientists) to launch space experiments in soda can-sized containers aboard its rockets. It has donated a number of payloads to the Teachers in Space program.
“When the students see that they can design and build their own space experiment themselves, launch it, and then analyze the results after the flight, it creates real excitement and involvement,” says Heck.
This means, say the teachers, that development of a curriculum and training goals is important to the success of the Teachers in Space program. This development has generated a lot of discussion among program participants. “It’s a growing program,” Manzer said, commenting that while the teachers and other Teachers in Space officials at times have differing opinions on what is the best approach to boosting student and teacher participation, consensus was rapidly reached on the goals of the program.
“It is a question of how to get this experience back to the classroom,” said Schmidt. “But one this is certain, this experience really does have an impact on the kids. After last summer, when I brought my experiences back tot he classroom, the students were a little skeptical at first, thinking that maybe I was making it all up. But after that initial reaction, they picked up the excitement, and now my kids are as excited about this as I am.”
Kuhl said the program is going through inevitable growing pains as the group develops the program format but is very optimistic. “Given the right support, this is going to be really great for the country,” he says.
Heck agrees. “Through the Pathfinder program, we are reaching students and teachers across the nation, because they now see, for the first time, that they can personally get involved in space science,” he said. “When the kids see that their own teachers can get involved, and they can launch their own experiments, they see themselves in the role of reaching space themselves.”
“That’s he greatest motivator yet,” Manzer added.
Teachers who are interested in applying to participate in the program are urged to contact Teachers in Space through the organization’s website: