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Contact: Stephanie R. Zeluck



      The Space Shuttle Atlantis, scheduled for launch on the STS- 86 mission on September 25, will support the third and final flight of KidSat, NASA's pilot education program that uses an electronic still camera aboard the Shuttle to bring the frontiers of space exploration to a growing number of U.S. middle schools via the Internet.

      KidSat is a NASA-sponsored research and development project that links middle schools, high schools and university students to Space Shuttle missions. The mission of KidSat is to understand and demonstrate how middle school students can participate in scientific observations of Earth by using mounted cameras onboard the Space Shuttle to support their classroom studies.

      Students engage in a process to select and analyze images of Earth during Shuttle flights and use the tools of modern science -- such as computers, data analysis tools and the Internet -- to widely disseminate the images and results. A team environment is implemented, modeling scientific research and space operations to promote student growth, discovery and achievement.

      These students remotely operate an electronic still camera, mounted in the right overhead window on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle to take digital photographs of Earth. Middle school students are responsible for planning the photo requests, which involve calculating the longitude and latitude of a region, as well as the exact time the Shuttle flies over it. High school and university students then compile the requests into a single control file which is forwarded by KidSat representatives at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston to a laptop computer connected to the camera. Using special flight software, the laptop automatically commands the camera to snap the pictures requested by the middle schools. This image data will be transmitted back to a computer archive on Earth, where students can then access their pictures using the Internet.

      KidSat has flown on two previous Shuttle missions: the first was in March 1996 (STS-76) and the second in January 1997 (STS- 81). The third and final mission of this pilot program is planned for the September flight of STS-86. Whereas three U.S. middle schools participated in the first flight of KidSat, 52 schools will be participating in this flight.

      "What's happened over the last three years is that the KidSat students have really taken over the project, and they've been the ones who have created and done the work," said Dr. JoBea Way, principal investigator for KidSat at JPL. "One of the things that's been the most impressive has been how students in classrooms across the country have utilized all kinds of local and NASA resources, external resources in their local science community and the international science community via the Internet. They've studied parts of their country that they might not have thought about before, and have gained a sense of responsibility by starting a project, finishing it and educating adults in the process."

      More than 300 KidSat photos were taken during STS-76, and another 500 were taken during the second KidSat flight, STS-81. These can be accessed at the following URL:

      The three-year pilot program is a partnership between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the Johns Hopkins University Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth (JHU-IAAY).

      During the Shuttle mission, the KidSat mission operations center at UCSD is staffed by undergraduate and high school students. The center is modeled after Mission Control at JSC. The students receive telemetry from the Shuttle on their computer monitors and can listen to and receive instructions from NASA's flight controllers over direct channels to JSC.

      The KidSat mission operations team monitors the Shuttle's progress around the clock and continually provides up-to-date information to the middle schools, who are using the Internet to send instructions to photograph specific regions of the Earth. Since any change in the Shuttle's orbit can affect students' selections, UCSD constantly updates this information so that the middle schools may re-plan their photographic requests if necessary. This is done through a sophisticated World Wide Web site that allows students access to interactive maps of orbit ground tracks to aid in photo selection.

      When the image requests have been verified by KidSat mission operations, they are compiled into a single camera control file and forwarded electronically to the KidSat representatives at JSC. They pass this file on to flight controllers, who uplink it to the computer-camera system on board the Space Shuttle. Special computer software developed by students at JPL will translate these commands to control the camera. These same students trained the astronauts on the use of the software and the installation of the KidSat camera in the Shuttle's overhead window.

      After the photographs are taken, they are sent back down to the KidSat data system at JPL, staffed by high school students during the mission and posted on the World Wide Web for the students to study and analyze. The curriculum used by the middle school students and teachers is being developed by John Hopkins University's Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth and UC San Diego.

      The KidSat pilot program is sponsored by NASA's Office of Human Resources and Education, with support from the Offices of Space Flight, Mission to Planet Earth, and Space Science.

9/23/97 SRZ