At a Glance
- In FY21, ISS National Lab Space Station Explorers partner programs engaged more than 3.8 million people.
- This year, 70% of the participants in Space Station Explorers partner programs were female and 40% represented underserved communities.
- Nine new organizations were awarded projects to advance STEM education through an FY21 NLRA focused on digital engagement and higher education.
- The Space Station Ambassador Program has doubled in size since FY19, growing to more than 1,600 members this year.
Advancing science literacy in the future workforce continues to be a key focus area for the ISS National Lab, with an emphasis on both K-12 students and higher education. Each year, the ISS National Lab engages both students and adults in powerful educational programs through Space Station Explorers—a community of educators, learners, and organizations that leverage the unique platform of the ISS National Lab to provide valuable STEM educational experiences. In FY21 alone, more than 3.8 million people engaged with the 25 partner programs within the Space Station Explorer community. Furthermore, 70% of participants in Space Station Explorers partner programs this year were female and 40% represented underserved communities.
In FY21, six new partners joined the Space Station Explorers community: Advancing X, Space Foundation, SpaceKids Global, Center for Applied Space Technology (CAST), Discovery Education, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The Space Station Ambassador program—in which educators, leaders, and lifelong learners share information on Space Station Explorers activities with their communities—also expanded this year. The program grew to more than 1,600 members in FY21, doubling in size since FY19.
Space Station Explorers partner programs provide a wealth of STEM education curricula, kits, and hands-on learning activities—including opportunities for students to design and launch their own research to the ISS. Examples of FY21 educational activities from our partner programs include the following:
- More than 30 student-led experiments, involving more than 16,000 students, launched to the ISS on SpaceX CRS-21 through the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). In this program, students design spaceflight experiments in both the physical and life sciences using MixStix testing tubes from ISS National Lab Commercial Services Provider Nanoracks.
- The Genes in Space program, funded by Boeing and miniPCR Bio™, announced the 2021 winner of its annual research competition, a high school student who designed an experiment testing a new technique for detecting water pathogens in space. Through this free program, students in grades 7 through 12 design DNA experiments that utilize the unique environment of the ISS National Lab. Also, in FY21, last year’s Genes in Space winning experiment examining the effects of spaceflight on drug metabolism launched to the ISS, and results from a prior Genes in Space student experiment were published in the journal PLOS One.
- As part of the Story Time From Space program, NASA astronaut Shannon Walker read the book “Give Me Some Space” from onboard the ISS, and the recording reached about 2 million viewers worldwide. Story Time From Space also did its first live reading from the ISS this year in which Walker read “Willow the Water Bear” as students from around the world tuned in.
- During Sally Ride EarthKAM Mission 72 this year, more than 7,000 images requested by students were taken by a camera onboard the ISS. Through this free educational outreach program, students submit requests to capture imagery of specific geographic areas, allowing them to learn about Earth from the perspective of space.
- The Zero Robotics program released a documentary film this year called “Zero Gravity” that follows a group of middle school students as they compete in a Zero Robotics tournament. Through this free program, students write coding to maneuver small satellites to complete objectives, and the finalists’ codes are run on satellites onboard the ISS in a championship match.
Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders
ISS National Lab education initiatives are not only engaging today’s students but also building tomorrow’s leaders. ISS National Lab Youth Launch Events, held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, provide students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch their experiments launch to the space station. This year, students launched experiments through several Space Station Explorers partner programs, including Higher Orbits, SSEP, and DreamUp. At Youth Launch Events, students also have an opportunity to share their science with the public through presentation and poster sessions.
In FY21, multiple ISS National Lab education initiatives engaged Girl Scouts around the country. The Amateur Radio on the ISS (ARISS) program held three events with Girl Scout groups, one of which included more than 15,000 participants. Additionally, in FY21, winners were announced for the “Making Space for Girls Challenge,” organized by Space Kids Global and the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council with support from ISS National Lab Implementation Partner ProXops. Generating nearly 700 entries, the challenge provided an avenue for Girl Scouts across the nation to demonstrate skills in science, art, and writing by designing an experiment to be conducted on the ISS, creating space-themed art, or writing a space-related essay.
An NSF grant awarded to CASIS in FY21 is providing $298,000 in funding for the ISS National Lab to work with University of California, Berkeley on a Student Mission Control program designed for use high school computer science courses. The program will provide high school students with direct access to data and experiments on the ISS, helping them develop valuable skills in data collection and analysis. Additionally, this year, CASIS awarded nine new ISS National Lab projects to STEM organizations through an NLRA focused on digital engagement and higher education. Awardees include the University of Arizona, Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation, Orion’s Quest, Mattel, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others.
The Space Station Ambassador program gained visibility in FY21 when Space Station Ambassador Sian Procter embarked on Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian orbital mission. Procter, one of four civilians selected for the mission to low Earth orbit, has been a member of the Space Station Ambassador program since 2017, helping to share the many educational opportunities available through the ISS National Lab. Also, in FY21, TIME magazine selected its first ever “Kid of the Year”—15-year-old Gitanjali Rao, a past participant of the Genes in Space Program. Rao was part of a team of students that won a Junior Scientist Award at the 2018 Genes in Space competition for their experiment to study the genetics of plant growth regulation in microgravity.
STEM education was also the focus at multiple ISS National Lab events this year, including an International Destination Station virtual session for educators on “Taking STEM Education to a Higher Level.” Representatives from the ISS National Lab and NASA discussed the many ways the ISS can be leveraged to inspire the next generation of explorers. In addition, ISSRDC 2021 included a virtual session called “Making Space for All in STEM.” The session was moderated by Emily Callandrelli, host and co-executive producer of Emily’s Wonder Lab, and panelists included NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor; Gitanjali Rao, TIME’s 2020 Kid of the Year; and two young female researchers. The all-woman panel discussed diversity in STEM and the future of STEM education and served as a powerful inspiration for young girls to pursue their interests in STEM fields.