Out of this world

Spaceship of the future lands in Kenai

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Saying that NASA is a learning organization with a lot to learn, the agency's associate administrator of education told Soldotna business leaders Tuesday that NASA will respond to all the recommendations in the recently released report about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

"There is no person on Earth who didn't suffer with us," Adena Loston said of the Feb. 1 Columbia accident, adding that NASA has established a task recovery study group to ensure that those who died in the explosion did not die in vain.

"Our mission is about exploration, discovery and research," Loston said, listing five enterprises of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: space flight, space science, Earth science, aerospace and technology and biological and physical research.

"We have now added a sixth enterprise -- education," she said.

Visiting schools and business organizations throughout the Kenai Peninsula for three days this week, the administrator outlined NASA education programs as being part of the agency's mission.

Loston's visit coincides with the visit of Starship 2040, NASA's traveling space transportation exhibit designed to give visitors a look into NASA's vision of space flight as it might exist 40 years from now. (For a schedule of Starship 2040, see page A-7.)


NASA Associate Administrator for Education Adena Loston describes the agency's education initiatives during the luncheon business meeting of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

Loston told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce that NASA views education as involving two priorities, one she described as pipeline and the other as work force. Pipeline, she explained, includes school children who will someday become the workers in space exploration and space travel.

"School children are not performing well in science and math," Loston said. "NASA is stepping up to address the need.

"We have over 30,000 ideas that have come out of our agency that are impacting people's lives daily.

"And our people are among the most brilliant. We're going to share our resources."

Loston drew a laugh from the Soldotna group when she mentioned that NASA designed a Web site for student access and named it "Send your teacher to space."

Saying many kids liked that idea, she said NASA had to inform the students the program would be round trip.


Students from Kenai Middle School wait their turn to tour NASA's Starship 2040.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

"Now over 30,000 kids are on the Web site engaged in learning," she said.

Loston also described the NASA Explorer Schools program that was rolled out June 30, that invites schools to link with science supervisors at NASA.

"Explorer Schools is a three-year partnership through which we provide curricula and stipends to help teachers make (science and math) come alive in the school classrooms," she said.

NASA also provides the schools with grants to help provide the tools needed to teach math, science and other technology effectively, she said.

Another educational program NASA will be launching in six months is the NASA Explorer Institutes, according to Loston. The program will provide educational resources to museums, boys clubs and girls clubs and other similar institutions.

For the work force, Loston said NASA has developed a Science and Technology Initiative providing full scholarships to people pursuing undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees in science and technology fields needed by NASA.

After her presentation, Loston invited questions from the chamber attendees and Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, himself an educator, asked when Loston thought NASA would send a child to space.

"Right now, it's not on the immediate horizon," she said.

"It's because of the risk involved," she said. "The Chal-lenger Learning Centers already send children into space."

Asked if NASA intended to resume its teacher in space program, Loston said the program has evolved into the "Educator-Astronaut Corps."

She said educators are now being trained as full-fledged astronauts who will have the same abilities and job duties as the other mission specialists, except piloting space shuttles.

With several teachers in the audience, Loston told the group that NASA was not competing with the Department of Education.

"We are a federal agency with education written into our mission. We are not competing with the Department of Education, we are collaborating with them. They welcome us to the table," she said.

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