Start an Affordable High School Space Program

Today an increasing number of people are conducting their own space exploration projects. The main reason behind this increase in space exploration is that it no longer costs billions of dollars to achieve. Another reason is that exploring space no longer takes several years in development time and expertise. These two major factors are making space exploration available to an increasing number of scientists, engineers, hobbyists and students throughout the world.

With these restrictions no longer important, schools and companies are able to carry out experiments in space, giving them the ability to contribute to the field of science and technology through their own experiments. Today people from every background in academics and business are continuously filling the pool with skills, knowledge and resources to advance the field of space exploration.

High school space exploration program

At Valley Christian High School, located in San Jose, California they have a program that allows students to design and deploy complex science experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 30 days. The program is currently on its fourth year, and they are helping 10 other schools conduct their own experiments in space. The program has made it possible for the students to design and launch a CubeSat from the ISS this year and garner them the attention of different institutions and organizations. From the start of the program, NASA engineers have actually been very impressed by the space experiments conducted by the high school students.

The first experiment

The student’s first experiment involved growing plants in outer space. Although this may seem like a simple start to the program, people need to keep in mind that the environment and conditions in outer space are extremely different than those on earth. Some of the challenges included watering the plants as well as collecting data. Students solved the problem of watering the plants by building a box 4x4x6 inches, inside which they placed a microcomputer, some lights and an incubator. They programmed the microcomputer to figure out when the plants needed watering. The students were able to water the plants using a small IV bag like the ones used in hospitals. The microcomputer controlled the valve to let water out of the bag when needed, it was also responsible for gathering the data such as taking pictures as well as measuring temperature and humidity.

The succeeding experiments involved participation and partnerships with other schools. During the second year of the program, three other schools participated in biological experiments. During the third year of the program seven other schools participated in the program. The fourth year of the program 10 other schools were involved in the program to carry out experiments in space. The program even attracted participants from Finland and the state of Hawaii. The program that started in San Jose is now attracting schools from around the world.

One of the most notable experiments hadn’t even been attempted by NASA yet, it involved plating stainless steel rods with gold and bronze. The program has become such a success that teachers are considering the idea of offering junior high students the opportunity to get involved. As it gains in momentum, the program has the ability to reach more students in other schools and give them the chance to attempt interesting experiments. This collaboration would only serve to fuel the interest and result in more innovations over time.

Challenges and benefits

The program is offered as a voluntary, after school activity. The students’ grades aren’t affected by the program so this itself makes it a challenge to keep them interested in and returning to the program on their own time.  It is a team effort, making it increasingly important to keep the students interested. One major advantage to being involved in the program is the students’ ability to add the experiments to their resumes when they apply for college. One student was able to receive a four-year full scholarship to MIT as a result of their involvement in the space program.

The high school students participating aren’t just learning about engineering and science, they are also learning how to work as a team in the areas of finance, scheduling and PR. Each student is given their own individual tasks such as handling payload and experiments of the project, while others deal with the PR and getting the information to the school newspaper as well as the local media.

The space project doesn’t only teach students about space exploration but also teaches them the essential value of working as a team. It also teaches them about the valuable tasks outside the area of space to better prepare them for the challenges of life.

Not only are the students getting a chance to do some groundbreaking work in the field of space exploration which they can carry with them, they are also contributing to the field of science and technology and learning some valuable tools that will help them navigate through their future.

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