At a Glance
- For the second year in a row, ISS National Lab educational activities doubled in reach, this year connecting more than 2 million students and more than 5.5 million people in total though 23 partner programs and other initiatives.
- A new collaboration with the JFK Library Foundation complemented FY19 activities in partnership with Marvel, Nickelodeon, PBS, and others—many involving in-orbit student experiments.
- More than 800 educators now volunteer through our Space Station Ambassador program.
- A new STEM educational kit designed by the ISS National Lab compiles free activities that align with national education standards but involve only minimal-cost supplies, helping to broaden use of space-related educational activities in underserved communities.
ISS National Lab education initiatives doubled in their reach again in FY19, showcasing the power of collaboration for engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Promoting STEM literacy in our country’s youth and preparing the future workforce to maintain U.S. leadership in a tech-savvy global economy is a fundamental responsibility of the ISS National Lab, complementing efforts to facilitate innovation in space and support the growing LEO marketplace.
Figure 7. Five-year trend in education reach
The success of ISS National Lab education activities is fueled by a growing list of partners and partner programs, listed in Appendix D and shown on the map on Section VI. Since 2012, the ISS National Lab has been building partnerships with schools and educational organizations interested in bringing U.S. STEM achievements to the forefront of the global market. Today, millions of students participate in 23 active programs—education and outreach initiatives with hands-on learning activities associated with the ISS National Lab, many of which launch student-designed experiments to the ISS.
The impressive growth in student engagement over the past five years was paralleled by a shift from viewing ISS National Lab student opportunities as a collection of independent educational activities to managing them as an integrated group of programs that creates a community of learners and explorers. The Space Station Explorers concept reflects the advice of 34 experts in STEM education fields, who outlined the power of a unified approach to maximize program growth and external funding during an ISS National Lab STEM Summit in 2015. Today, the Space Station Explorers brand allowed the ISS National Lab to increase national distribution of STEM opportunities from disparate programs and aided in building a powerful partner network that now includes Marvel, Boeing, the Boy Scouts of America, Challenger Learning Centers, National Geographic Learning, Nickelodeon, and Boys and Girls Clubs, among others. Such high-profile partnerships allow the nonprofit ISS National Lab to secure third-party sponsorships for student activities and elevate overall engagement by leveraging big-brand credibility and expertise.
On the other end of the spectrum, grassroots efforts by ISS National Lab Space Station Ambassadors (empowered educators that receive training and exclusive access to program resources) began in 2013 and now reflect the work of more than 800 dedicated volunteers—more than 300 of which joined in FY19 (learn more at www.spacestationexplorers.org/ambassadors). Several of these Ambassadors tested a pilot concept for a “Space Lab,” a physical research area, akin to a biology or chemistry lab, in which students would experience learning activities associated with a blend of resources from the 23 Space Station Explorers programs. This Space Lab pilot program paved the way to a new FY19 partnership with the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Library Foundation. Formed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing and reignite the inspiration of the Apollo program in today’s classrooms, JFK Space Labs (www.spacestationexplorers.org/jfk-space-labs-program) is a platform that provides access to ISS National Lab educational activities—including some FY19 educational funding opportunities through Raytheon, Google, and TD Bank.
Other FY19 success stories for STEM education on the ISS National Lab include the following.
- A STEM Kit designed by ISS National Lab staff embraces the concept of “dollar-store science,” with free activities that align with national education standards but involve only minimal-cost supplies. The Kit, released in FY19, evolved from a 2016 educator resource guide developed in collaboration with IMAX as a supporting resource for the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet. The new iteration of the Kit further elucidates connections with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. (Learn more about the STEM Kit at issnationallab.org/blog/space-station-explorers-releases-new-kit-designed-to-empower-students-with-knowledge-through-hands-on-activities.)
- Several student investigations launched as part of SpaceX CRS-16. The student experiments on this mission cover a wide range of topics—from examining the ability of fungi to act as a radiation barrier to looking at coffee’s effects on oral hygiene in space and studying genetically engineered bacteria that produce medically important proteins. Also launched on this mission were the two winning student experiments from the Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge. The ISS National Lab partnered with Marvel Entertainment for the challenge, and hundreds of students from across the U.S. submitted concepts for spaceflight experiments based on the physical characteristics of Guardians of the Galaxy characters Rocket and Groot. The winning student experiment for Team Groot is looking at aeroponic farming in microgravity, and the winning student experiment for Team Rocket will examine the effectiveness in microgravity of a dental glue that is activated by ultraviolet light. (Read more at issnationallab.org/press-releases/two-student-projects-selected-from-guardians-of-the-galaxy-space-station-challenge.)
- A new video series called SciGirls® in Space, part of the popular Twin Cities PBS SciGirls® program, highlights four girls who have conducted science experiments onboard the ISS National Lab. The videos provide an opportunity for young girls to see other real-life girls pursuing their passion for science and doing real research on the ISS National Lab. The SciGirls television show, website, and educational outreach program is the most widely accessed girls’ STEM program in the U.S., reaching more than 14 million girls, educators, and families. TheSciGirls in Space videos, which are accompanied by standards-based science activities, will be available on multiple PBS online platforms, including PBS Kids, SciGirls CONNECT educator’s website, and PBS Learning Media (pbskids.org/scigirls). Twin Cities PBS is also implementing related educational outreach at five community learning centers across the U.S.: The McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning in Massachusetts, The Challenger Center of Ramapo in New York, The Challenger Center in Heartland Community College in Illinois, the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium in North Dakota, and Girls Inc. of San Antonio in Texas.
- Story Time From Space(STFS) is a Space Station Explorers partner program in which astronauts read children’s stories and conduct related science demonstrations from onboard the ISS National Lab. In FY19, STFS partnered with American Girl to record an in-orbit reading of an excerpt from Luciana: Braving the Deep, from the American Girl book series. Luciana Vega™—American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year™—dreams of becoming an astronaut, traveling to space, and someday becoming the first person to walk on Mars. Also part of STFS, the first-ever Arabic book reading on the ISS took place in FY19. The book was read by the first Emirati astronaut to work onboard the ISS, representing growth in the global collaborative nature of the ISS and its ability to support emerging space nations.
- Among the student investigations on SpaceX CRS-18 were 38 separate MixStix experiments developed by young explorers through the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. MixStix are small mixture enclosure tubes that use clamps to keep fluids or solids (such as chemicals or biological materials) separate until the clamps are released in space to allow the contents to mix. MixStix research on this mission ranged from the evaluation of mold in microgravity to experiments involving water purification and plant biology. The Quest Institute also launched a multi-experiment investigation on SpaceX CRS-18 that involved student teams from all over the world, io launched two investigations allowing students to examine how microgravity influences bacterial growth, and Nickelodeon, the children’s television network, sent its iconic slime to space to investigate how microgravity affects the material. The project included a series of science demonstrations to help students learn about basic fluid dynamics.
- A student project from the Genes in Space program made history with the first use of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology on the ISS. The experiment, designed to provide insight on how DNA repairs itself after damage incurred through cosmic radiation, is the first use of this specific gene editing technique in space. CRISPR holds the potential to combat a variety of global medical and environmental issues. The use of CRISPR in space is just the latest in a trend of advancing genetics tools in space. In 2016, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA in space for the first time, and the inaugural winner of Genes in Space performed PCR in space for the first time. In 2018, RNA was sequenced for the first time in space, and now with CRISPR, we have hit another milestone that brings us closer to cutting-edge terrestrial genomics. The entire experimental process took place on station—the DNA damage and repair as well as the sequencing to study resulting molecular changes—setting the stage for future DNA experiments that can be conducted on the ISS to expand our understanding of genetics in space.