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Marymount-Ft. Belvoir Elementary School Partnership: Sixth Graders to Have Radio Contact with International Space Station

Thursday, January 02, 2014
What’s it like being in zero gravity? How is living in the space station different? What experiments are you conducting in space, and why do them there?

These are just some of the questions that sixth graders at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School, a Fairfax County public school, are thinking about asking the astronauts aboard the International Space Station when they have radio contact the week of January 20, 2014.

This event is coordinated through Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), a cooperative venture of NASA, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, and other international space agencies that schedule radio contacts between astronauts and schools. The ARISS radio contact is one in a series of educational activities organized by Teaching from Space, a NASA Education office dedicated to improving STEM teaching and learning using the unique environment of human spaceflight. NASA will determine the exact date and time of the radio contact approximately one week prior based on the space station’s anticipated location.

The proposal put forward by Marymount University, working in partnership with Ft. Belvoir Elementary School, was one of the few in the country that resulted in an invitation to make contact with the space station in 2014. On average, there are approximately 30 ARISS contacts in the U.S. per year.

Marymount has an ongoing partnership with the school. Dr. Usha Rajdev, Marymount professor of Education, explains, “It’s a way to give back to U.S. military families who sacrifice so much.” She and Marymount math and science education students are working closely with Kara Fahy, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focus teacher at Ft. Belvoir Elementary School, to help prepare the children for the contact. Dr. Eric Bubar, Marymount assistant professor of physics, is also on board, serving as the coordinator with NASA and the ARISS mentor.

Marymount undergraduates who are planning to teach math and science are spending Wednesdays at the elementary school. In the mornings, they learn a hands-on math lesson, then immediately teach it to a class at the school. In the afternoon, they do the same with a science lesson. Several M.Ed. candidates will also assist on the day of contact.

To prepare the children, lessons leading up to the contact include learning about the need for thermal protection on the spacecraft; the history and purpose of space stations; robots, like the Mars rovers and landers; lunar explorations; satellites and orbits; and the atmosphere and condition in outer space. The children are conducting hands-on experiments to better understand the material.

Students will also learn about amateur radio by simulating an ARISS contact using handheld radios prior to the event. Vienna (Virginia) Wireless Society board member Ian Branson, along with other ham radio volunteers, will visit the school to provide an introduction to amateur radio and lead the students in the simulated ARISS contact.

The excitement is building as the contact date grows closer. The Ft. Belvoir sixth graders are learning all they can about space and space exploration as they look forward to speaking directly with the astronauts high above the earth. Their eyes are open to the possibility of one day playing a role themselves in new scientific discoveries. Learning should be fun and exciting. NASA and ARISS are helping kids see that it really is.

ARISS was developed to inspire an interest in STEM subjects and in STEM careers among young people; provide an educational opportunity for students, teachers and the general public to learn about space exploration, space technologies, and satellite communications, as well as wireless technology and radio science through Amateur Radio; and provide for Amateur Radio experimentation and evaluation of new technologies.