The momentum from NASA’s highly successful Curiosity Robot deployment is building this fall in every STEM related classroom. Teachers are excited, students are coming to school with at least some prior knowledge, and curriculum is being added to make Curiosity a part of every student’s vocabulary. The question is, how do you go beyond the daily news updates, related subject material integration, and discussions that are happening in schools across the country? Can everyday students expect to be involved with an actual space flight? With some creative and budget minded thinking, and a very helpful Instructable, it is very possible to do just that-this school year!
The young minds at the stratohab blog have successfully designed, launched and recovered a camera and gps- equipped balloon that reached the limits of the upper atmosphere-in other words, outer space! This project is extremely well documented, and they spell out the preliminary work that needs to be done before conducting a launch. There is some FAA paperwork, a HAM radio license must be acquired, and of course the hardware must be purchased. The team of high school students wisely kept the hardware as simple as possible, and did several months of design testing and simulation before executing the launch.
They used a helium filled weather balloon purchased at Amazon.com (!) along with two well-proven GPS tracking devices along with a digital camera to document the flight. As with any complex, long term STEM project, many unexpected problems were encountered and solutions were found. Long term projects such as this that require constant problem solving using multiple STEM disciplines makes for an incredibly rich experience for students and teachers alike. Because of the very broad range of knowledge and skills that will be acquired and applied in this project, it can make for an ideal opportunity to get colleagues involved in your building who may be somewhat reluctant to alter their current educational practices-you know who I am talking about. Every department from math and physics to earth science and history can be a part of this project-after all, its outer space! Teacher leaders should take a close look at the web site and download the pdf files, you will see that the hard work has already been done. If you are already involved in long term projects such as FIRST robotics , you are already comfortable with the using students in a team structure that divides labor and logistics to maintain work flow toward a common goal. You will need students who can research, document, test, design, calculate, contact government agencies and vendors, do publicity, organize, and help fund raise. The key is to have everyone be involved, and feel that they play a valuable role in the development and execution of this project.
It really is true: For a few hundred dollars, your students really can have a space program of their own, ensuring their continued interest in STEM for the rest of their lives. See if you can make it happen this year, the payoff will be profound.