NASA has begun a new, three-year pilot education program designed to bring the frontiers of space exploration into classrooms via the Internet.
Known as KidSat, the program will allow students to operate instruments and download images in real-time from the Space Shuttle and, in the future, from the international Space Station.
KidSat is an innovative curriculum, coupled with instruments, mission operations and information systems, currently in development by NASA and the educational community to explore Earth from space. With these new learning tools, students will be able to view the Earth as the astronauts do and gain valuable new perspectives on the scale and fragility of the planet they will inherit.
"KidSat will be designed, built and operated by students," said KidSat principal investigator Dr. JoBea Way of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The underlying philosophy of this program is to stimulate young people's interests in learning by giving them their own piece of the space program."
Three middle schools are participating in the initial phase of the KidSat pilot program, including Samuel Gompers Secondary School in San Diego, CA, Buist Academy in Charleston, SC, and the Washington Accelerated Learning Center in Pasadena, CA. JPL, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and The Johns Hopkins University Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth (IAAY) have formed a partnership to support the student project. JPL is preparing the flight and data system for the program. UCSD will run the mission control gateway, linking student mission operations centers at each participating school. IAAY is developing the core curriculum for classroom instruction. Over the next two years, additional classrooms will join the program from the Omaha, Houston and Baltimore school districts.
As the KidSat payload begins to fly on selected Shuttle missions, other aspects of the program will be finalized and put in place. By the end of the pilot program, the KidSat interactive Internet site will be fully online, a new curriculum to accompany KidSat data will be available and, if the pilot program is successful, the KidSat payload will be ready for early flights on the international Space Station.
"KidSat represents an investment in the nation's future, giving kids exposure to environmental studies from low-Earth orbit," said former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, a professor of physics at UCSD. Ride is leading the development of the mission operations element of KidSat with NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, and a team of undergraduate and graduate students.
"By attaching KidSat to the Space Shuttle, students will be able to participate in space exploration as astronauts and cosmonauts do," Ride said.
"The program will provide an innovative way to present materials to students and will underscore the opportunities they have to comprehend and master concepts that are being presented," added Elizabeth Jones Stork, director of the western regional branch of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth. Johns Hopkins is developing the educational curriculum for the program. "In turn, those experiences will challenge young explorers and encourage them to apply their skills to real world issues."
The first instrument payloads to fly aboard the Space Shuttle will consist of an electronic still camera mounted in the overhead window of the Orbiter and two video cameras mounted in the Shuttle's cargo bay. Students will be able to operate the cameras from their classrooms and photograph regions of the world that interest them.
If they are studying the principles of gravity or geometry, for example, they would be able to use KidSat data to visualize the concepts. Or they could use data to study current events -such as the flooding of the Mississippi River, volcanic eruptions, or the advance of deforestation in the Amazon -- and understand the impact of natural and human activities on the environment. History, in turn, could be recreated by imaging regions of the U.S. where famous battles of the Civil War were fought.
After the pilot program is completed, the KidSat cameras may be replaced by more elaborate instruments, providing both telepresence capabilities and better remote-sensing tools. Technologies to create a full telepresence in space will be possible using JPL's digital image animation laboratory and new optical technologies.
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, Washington, D.C.
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