The Inspiration of Space Exploration

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October has been a whirlwind month for NASA Education and for me personally.  In addition to our ongoing education programs and activities, NASA was the host of the 2011 International Space Education Board (ISEB), which is held annually in conjunction with the International Astronautical Congress (IAC).  I was proud to lead the NASA education team in this effort, which took place in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa.


Though I was relatively new to this arena, I was immediately welcomed into the ISEB family and was overwhelmed by their kindness, encouragement and assistance in making all of our events an immense success.


There are many reasons why I truly appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this year’s IAC, but one stands out in particular.  In 2008 and 2009, I had the privilege of traveling to space aboard the shuttle Atlantis on STS-122 and STS-129, respectively.  Both times we docked with the International Space Station and as we orbited the Earth, I saw no borders; I couldn’t distinguish one country from another. That wonderful vantage point gave me a new perspective on this planet and its people. It also shaped my approach to education: the need for us to work together as one cohesive body to prepare our children to become future leaders who can study, learn, communicate, and collaborate in a global environment.


The goals of the ISEB are to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy and achievement in connection with space and to support the future workforce needs of space programs. With the recent debut of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), we had the opportunity to utilize the combined resources of the ISEB to make a sustained and lasting impact on the South African space community and bring awareness of the benefits of space exploration to an entirely new audience.  This year’s theme for the ISEB education and outreach effort was, “You are the World’s Future in Space.”  We extended this theme to reach not only our Space Ambassadors, but also educators and learners from across South Africa.


Just as the IAC provided an international forum to share knowledge and passion for space, the ISEB International Student Zone fostered dialogue and connections among a diverse group of talented students. As I watched them eloquently present their research, celebrate their individual cultures, and network with each other, I saw what they are destined to become: the next generation of space leaders. I am absolutely sure that by the end of the week, lifelong friendships were created that will extend beyond political and language barriers. 


Through the IAC Space Education and Outreach Committee’s professional development workshop that was led by the Canadian Space Agency, educators gained the knowledge, tools and confidence required to bring space into their classrooms. Educators came from all over South Africa to attend, some traveling over 1400 km (85 miles). By the end of an exciting two days, they had been immersed in hands-on, inquiry-based activities related to astronomy, exploration, Earth observation and the effects of space flight on the human body. The resources and training they obtained will be used to educate the learners of South Africa for years to come. 




The week culminated with a blast, as we hosted 400 learners from the Western Cape for hands-on activities that introduced them to key space-related concepts like renewable energy, astronomy and robotics. The event exposed the learners to a wide variety of possible space careers, from engineering and scientific research to communication and policy making. The Iziko Museum of Cape Town and the LEGO Foundation brought local flavor to the event and provided a rich experience for the learners as well as potential for ongoing follow-on activities. It was a memorable day for not only the 8th grade learners attending but also for the Space Ambassadors who led the activities. I believe that there are few rewards in life greater than that of a smile on a child’s face, and on Friday I saw literally hundreds of smiles – on the learners, Space Ambassadors and ISEB leaders and staff.  


Space really is a universal, galvanizing force for inspiring creativity, dreams and bright futures for today’s students. Moving forward, I am excited about the challenge to continue improving the lives of students here in the U.S., but also around world.  I enjoyed the time spent with this amazing international space education family.  I think our unified efforts will lead to a robust, collaborative space community in the future.


Ad astra,

Leland

A Look Toward the Future

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Atlantis was my home in 2008 and 2009.  On July 8, I was filled with mixed emotion:  excitement at seeing Atlantis lift off and melancholy knowing that it was the last launch of the space shuttle era.  During my flights, my crewmates and I used Atlantis to continue building the International Space Station (ISS) and making it the large and robust scientific outpost in space that it is today.  The amazing work being done on ISS will help ignite the next generation of explorers – just like those students who attended our pre-launch “Unconference” in Orlando.

One of our special guests was Irene Stofan, a former teacher and the mother of Jim Stofan, my deputy in the Office of Education.  I asked Irene to be my guest blogger this month and to reflect on her experience attending the “Unconference” – I know you will enjoy reading her impressions.

All the best,

Leland

The Future is Now

The space shuttle countdown clock neared 4 minutes and a single, lovely voice began the anthem.  As one, swelling with pride, over 5000 voices joined in a robust rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.  At its conclusion, when the crowd took to cheering again, my glasses were misty and many were wiping tears from their eyes.

  

But there was greater drama ahead.  When the clock stopped suddenly at 31 seconds, that same crowd held its collective breath in complete silence for several long minutes.  The countdown finally resumed to wild cheers.  A few moments later, in a spectacular liftoff, Atlantis blasted into history.  Elation at a successful launch was mixed with profound sadness for the end of a storied chapter in our nation’s exploration of space.

But this last week was as much about the bright promises of the future as it was about the stunning successes of the past.  Thanks to my genetic contribution to NASA — my son, Jim Stofan, Deputy Associate Administrator for Education — I was privileged and honored to attend not only the launch but also the STS-135 Education Student “Unconference”.  Two hundred high school, college and graduate school students participated, led by panels of scientists both from NASA and private industry.

Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for education and a two-time shuttle astronaut himself, created a wonderful educational experience for Unconference participants.  He and his staff hoped that students would set the agenda, driving the discussions in each workshop and picking the brains of their panels of experts.  Turning the educational agenda over to students is risky business; lectures are so much safer for the teacher.  But Leland, his staff and the experts from NASA and private industry took the risk and reaped the rewards.  In every session I attended, NASA education staff organized responses and kept both the experts and the students on track.  The scientists who participated were excellent teachers, providing clear explanations to students and yet continually eliciting more ideas and questions from them.  The students were marvelous, generating spirited discussions with panelists and with each other.

To my consternation, I often found myself not quite understanding the workshop discussions or even some of the students’ questions.  I am an English teacher, and the participants and leaders were math and science folks.  But I do understand enthusiasm, involvement, and inspiration.  Every teacher longs to light these sparks in students, and NASA’s efforts produced those responses in abundance.

  

One of the highlights of the conference was a tour of the Kennedy Space Center prior to launch day.  Time and time again, I was moved by the dedication of NASA employees to their jobs.  During our tour of an Orbiter Processing Facility, the project manager of Endeavor wept as she spoke of her 15-year commitment to the space shuttle. Whether they work on rockets, orbiters or satellites, robotics, aeronautics or technology, fly in space or educate the next generation, NASA employees are extraordinary in their commitment to and love for what they do. 

When I think of the amazing people I met at the Unconference, as well as during the tour and launch, I am confident that the future of NASA will outshine its fabled past.  The enthusiasm and commitment of these communities of students, scientists and educators, and the collective brainpower of all those formidable intellects, are enough to cure all diseases, save our global environment and send a thousand missions to the stars and beyond.

                     

Happy Summer Solstice

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Today, June 21, is the first day of summer and also is designated “National Summer Learning Day.”  

I’m sure the words “summer” and “learning” elicit groans from many students, but past experience has shown that if the content is interesting and the approach is hands on and dynamic, then summer learning can not only be a very rewarding experience, it can also open doors to many new opportunities.

In November 2009, President Obama announced a national campaign called Educate to Innovate focused on increasing the scientific and technical literacy of our student population in order to ensure that the U.S. will have the scientists, engineers and technology-savvy workforce needed for our nation to remain competitive in the future.  NASA’s Office of Education responded to this challenge with a three-year pilot program called Summer of Innovation (SOI) to engage middle school students in compelling science and engineering learning experiences during the school break.  

As NASA begins SOI’s second year, I am excited about what we are able to offer this summer to stimulate learning outside of the traditional classroom setting. We have more than 300 planned collaborations across the country to engage students and teachers in exciting NASA-themed content and experiences this summer.  
 
As I speak with educators and experts across the country, the huge potential for summer learning is often central to the conversation.  Many students fall victim to “summer slide,” or a loss of academic skills over the summer months. It costs both teachers and students precious time during the beginning of every school year, as they are forced to re-teach and re-learn content that has already been covered instead of moving on to new challenges. 

One important goal of SOI is to keep students interested and engaged by combining learning with inspiration and a sense of fun — but it goes deeper than that.  Just as important as addressing the “summer slide”, is presenting students with an opportunity to explore content in depth and begin to build a real passion for a topic.  

I witness regularly NASA’s incredible ability to excite and inspire students through its missions and programs of exploration and discovery.  I believe that summer learning is the perfect opportunity to target our unique assets to begin inspiring and motivating tomorrow’s astronauts, engineers and rocket scientists. I recently saw a statistic that 75% of all Nobel Prize winners attribute their interest in science to an experience that occurred outside of the classroom.  
 
This year, NASA’s Summer of Innovation website (www.nasa.gov/soi <http://www.nasa.gov/soi>) has hundreds of hours of lessons, challenges, and content for summer program providers, parents or the public to share with students during the summer months. Exciting and interesting activities that deal with how we live and work in space, our exploration pursuits of Mars and other planets, emerging robotics technology and principles of rocketry are available for use. Today, on this first day of summer 2011, I encourage you to take a few moments to check it out and share the excitement of NASA’s mission. The experience that you help create for a student or your child this summer could be the beginning of their incredible journey as a future explorer.  

Please join us in this noble effort as we encourage our young people to dream big and reach higher.
 

Endeavour's Final Flight, Part 2

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The Space Shuttle Endeavour’s magnificent journey has come to an end after 25 flights during its 19 years of service.  Endings are sad, but the memories are good.  Endeavour certainly has provided many wonderful memories over the years, both in its flight and engineering accomplishments, but also in terms of inspiration – like its launch on mission STS-134 just last month.

In my last blog I wrote about our special emphasis on military families for our STS-134 Pre-launch Education Forum.  We developed the content of this forum to align with the recently announced White House campaign called Joining Forces, an effort to show support to military families. It was a wonderful and enlightening experience to foster an education discussion with this group and to share the excitement of a launch with those people who give so much of themselves to the citizens of America.  

But there were many other inspiring education-related activities tied to the STS-134 launch as well.  

I had the opportunity to meet two exceptional teenage girls who were inspired by spaceflight, sisters Mikayla and Shannon Diesch.  They won the 2010 Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Challenge for their creation of the STEM Bar, a space nutrition bar that met the standards set by NASA Johnson Space Center’s Nutrition Laboratory.  Their STEM Bars actually flew on STS-134 as a food choice for the crew.  That’s taking a creative idea to new heights!  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the Diesch sisters are working hard to encourage their peers to pursue STEM studies and chase their dreams.  Read more about that at the end of this blog.

The STS-134 launch also featured a great partnership that NASA has with the LEGO Group.  Our cooperative efforts use the allure of NASA’s space program with the creativity and fun of building with LEGO bricks to teach STEM principles – it’s a perfect formula.  Earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to meet with LEGO innovators in Denmark.  It was inspiring to see so many people brainstorming on how to use these iconic little bricks to engage youth and propel them toward technical studies and careers.

I also participated in my third NASA Launch Tweet-Up.  This enthusiastic and tech-savvy group shares the ‘NASA cool’ with their Twitter pals, and they really embraced what NASA is doing to inspire and help students excel in their studies and consider pursuing STEM.  Their willingness to help us spread that message was wonderful.

I had many other opportunities to interact with media – both traditional and in the social realm – and they, too, support our NASA education efforts.  It’s through partnerships, teamwork, and all of us working together that we will increase STEM literacy in this nation and inspire the next generation of explorers.  I think my colleagues, the crew of STS-134, would agree that it is a fitting tribute to Endeavour’s final flight.

*****

High School Sisters Feed Interest in 

STEM Education with Space Nutrition Bar

“No matter how old or young you are, you can do it if you put in the work. It’s about the effort,” said Shannon Diesch. 

This philosophy certainly paid off for Shannon and her sister, Mikayla. The sisters, 14 and 16, of Battle Creek, Mich., had the special honor of watching the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission. Onboard are several of their STEM space nutrition bars. 

Mikayla and Shannon created the STEM Bar, a meal replacement granola bar as part of the 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards program hosted by the Conrad Foundation and received their award last May by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver during the closing ceremonies at NASA Ames Research Center. 

It certainly didn’t end for these high-school sisters after the student competition. After winning the 2010 Spirit of Innovation award, they really got busy. Through the Conrad Foundation, the girls received access to mentors from Kellogg Company, JPG Resources and Bridgetown Bakery, keys to a local food science lab, and the opportunity to attend the launch of STS-134.

“We’ve worked on these bars for so long. We were so nervous when we made the bars that had to go for testing; we were worried they wouldn’t pass the strict NASA guidelines. Now, we’re so excited that they are actually flying in space for the STS-134 crew to enjoy as a nutritional snack,” Mikayla said. 

“Through a Space Act Agreement between NASA and the Conrad Foundation, this and other real-world learning opportunities are opening up for students of all ages,” said Leland Melvin, associate administrator for education for NASA. “Having students like Mikayla and Shannon reaching out to their peers is what will move the needle in inspiring other students to study math and science.”  

Shannon and Mikayla are using their new acclaim to raise awareness of careers at NASA and the aerospace industry and the importance of STEM education. Prior to participating in the Spirit of Innovation Awards program, neither sister had considered the STEM field as a possible career choice. Now that they know the variety of options available to them, they want to share what they know with students around the country.

Both girls agree they were surprised how many students don’t enjoy STEM classes and believe more relevant application activities are needed in the classroom to make math and science appealing to students.

NASA Education Honors Military Families

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Since early April, NASA’s Office of Education had been looking forward to the launch of two exceptional missions: space shuttle Endeavour on its last flight, STS-134, and NASA’s new effort to support America’s military families. Although a hardware issue on April 29 delayed Endeavour’s final journey to the International Space Station, the Pre-Launch Education Summit and Military Families events, held over the course of three days in Florida, were a resounding success.


On April 12, first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden announced a new campaign called Joining Forces, a program designed for us to show support as a nation for the military families who steadfastly support us through their service and sacrifice.  They asked federal agencies to consider ways to become involved in Joining Forces and NASA found a great way to respond.


For the past several years, we have hosted education forums concurrent with shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center to engage leaders from both the exploration and education sectors.  NASA decided that making outreach to military families the focus of one of our final Pre-Launch Education Summits would be an excellent way to show our commitment to Joining Forces.


I had planned to take my blog audience on a journey through our three-day adventure, but I received a blog from 13-year-old Sophie Roth-Douquet that really touched me.  Sophie and her family were among our military guests in Florida that weekend; today, I am making her my first-ever guest blogger.  I know you will enjoy Sophie’s words!


NASA LAUNCHES A MILITARY FAMILY DAY 
by Sophie Roth-Douquet, 13 years old, MCRD Parris Island
 
This past week, my family went to a shuttle launch to see the shuttle Endeavor take off. Did we see it? The answer, no.


I’m getting ahead of myself, let me go back to the previous day at the Peabody hotel in Orlando, Florida.  We were there because NASA was running a special program for military families, as part of a bigger program that the President has – the President told all the parts of government to do something for military families – this is what NASA was doing, hosting us for the space shuttle launch.  I think it’s really awesome.  My family was walking down the hall to a large foyer where NASA activities would be occurring for military families when we ran into – Charles Bolden the head of NASA who my dad had worked for when I was little and Mr. Bolden was a general in the Marine Corps.  We were greeted warmly. Unfortunately the reunion had to be brief for Mr. Bolden is a busy man.  His grandchildren are military kids just like me and my brother.


After this we were ushered into a large room and Astronaut Michael Foreman welcomed us to the military family activities that had been arranged to teach us about the launch we would see the next day.  


After this we split into two groups – elementary school-aged students and middle and high school-aged students.  The elementary school-aged students crafted a moon buggy out of candy, a candy rocket, a straw rocket, and a Hubble Space Telescope made out of a toilet paper roll.  This was a big hit with my brother.  The middle and high school students made a grapple fixture out of two Styrofoam cups, string, and tape that mimicked the end effectors on the robotic arm used on the space shuttle work.  Next we made a water cooling system out of half of a tube sock, a tube, and scissors to mimic how the astronauts kept themselves cool in space.  Last we experienced how in space an astronaut’s leg gets thinner by measuring our legs, then not using our legs for ten minutes, then measuring them again. It was remarkable! My leg got thinner by a full inch!  I though these activities were great! At times they could be a bit childish, but there were young kids there, and it was all made better by the CANDY.   
           

A trio of future rocket scientists show Administrator Bolden their designs.


After a small break where my family took a plunge in the pool to cool off, we were given a heartfelt talk by some Astronauts and their wives about the Astronaut’s space trips (deployments) and how military families and astronaut families aren’t so different.  After the talk, I felt that if I ever met one of the astronauts talked about, I wouldn’t see them as an idol, but as a real person, someone who is human.
            

As a closing to a day of fun, we trained like an astronaut!  We did crunches and planks like astronauts do so that they can do everything they need to do in space.  
            

Exhausted from a day of activity, I ate dinner and went to bed dreaming of the time I would have at the launch the next day.  
            

We boarded a bus in the morning that would take us to the shuttle launch. During the bus ride, which was about 2 hours, we watched a little movie about what the shuttle launch would be like, and about past shuttle launches. Whenever they showed a shuttle going into space, I would imagine the shuttle I would soon see go out into space in person, and would think about how lucky I was to be seeing this sight.  This was going to be the second to last shuttle to go into space EVER, and I was going to get to see it.
            

With the shuttle Endeavor on its launch pad just coming into view, the bus was stopped, and the announcement made.  We weren’t going to go to the shuttle launch after all.
            

I felt angry, sad, frustrated and let down all at the same time.  How could this happen? We were right there!  We were ready!  I felt my emotions bubbling, threatening to overflow.  

Then the reason for the cancellation was announced.  There was a leak in the auxiliary power unit of the shuttle.  If they had gone, the shuttle might have even exploded like the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Everyone could have died.  If the mission had gone on as planned, and something had happened to the Endeavor, the U.S. might have lost some of its reputation too.
           

On the other hand, by delaying the launch, delaying the launch disappointed a ton of people, even the president.
            

After looking at both sides, I saw the reason for what they did.  Being a military kid, I know you can’t always count on the things you plan.  Like my Dad getting deployed with a week’s notice, or thinking you know when you are going to move, and having that changed at the last minute.  Things don’t always work out the way we want them too, but usually it’s because we have to do something more important.  It’s disappointing when my dad misses my birthday, for example, but I know it’s for what my mom calls the greater good.  This Space Shuttle cancellation was like that too.  It was disappointing, but it was for the greater good. 


After expressing my feelings to my dad, he told me, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So we did.  We only got a half-day at Disney World due to our late start, but we had a blast!  WE got to go on every ride we wanted and more! Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, we did it all.


After a day full of sorrow and joy, anger and glee, I thought about what had happened, how the shuttle had been canceled, and I thought, you can’t always count on your plans, but “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”



Note:  Endeavour’s flight has been rescheduled for Monday, May 16, at 8:56 a.m. EDT.  Tune into http://www.nasa.gov/ntv to watch!

Celebrating Black History

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My name is Leland Melvin. I am an engineer, snowboarder, chemist, musician, former NFL player, astronaut, and the Associate Administrator for Education at NASA.

I am also Black History.

Black History Month celebrates the combined experiences and achievements of all African-American people. The celebration of Black history in America was led by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926. He aimed to bring national attention to the significant contributions of African-Americans to the history of this country. It started out as a week, but has now grown to encompass the entire month of February each year. Right now is a particularly exciting time in Black history, with the first African-American president, Barack Obama; and the first African-American Administrator of NASA, Charles Bolden.

The 100 years of powered flight and five decades of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have been greatly enhanced by many African-American visionaries and innovators. Aviation pioneers like Bessie Coleman and the Tuskegee Airmen set the stage. As an astronaut, I have benefited tremendously from countless trailblazers who helped make it possible for me to fly into space. Only 19 African Americans have ever been named astronauts, fourteen men and five women who signed up to help lead the world into the space age and beyond. 

The astronaut corps was not always this diverse but in recent times NASA has made considerable effort to create a group of astronauts that mirrors America’s diverse population. Many were inspired to pursue a career in space by courageous African Americans in the 60s like Ed Dwight, who was recommended for the astronaut training program by President Kennedy, and Robert Lawrence, an Air Force astronaut designee who was killed in an aircraft training exercise in 1967.  Robert Lawrence was the first astronaut who paved the way and was virtually unknown for many, many years. In 1997, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation recognized Major Lawrence as the first black astronaut in NASA history, exactly 30 years after his death. A ceremony added Lawrence’s name to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space

Mirror at Kennedy Space Center.

In the late 1970s, NASA began selecting African Americans as astronaut candidates, and the 1978 astronaut class included Guion “Guy” Bluford, Ron McNair and Fred Gregory. 

  • Bluford, an Air Force pilot, was the first African American to fly in space in 1983 on Challenger during the shuttle’s first night launch and landing. 

  • He was followed in 1984 by physicist McNair, who later died in the Challenger accident.

  • Gregory, who was both the first African-American space shuttle pilot and the first African American space shuttle commander, later became the first African-American deputy administrator of NASA. 

Other notable Black astronauts include:

  • Charles Bolden, who was the pilot and commander in four missions in the 1980s and early 1990s; in 2009, he became the first African American to serve as administrator of NASA in a permanent capacity. 

  • Mae Jemison, a medical doctor and engineer, was the first African-American female to fly in space.

  • Dr. Bernard Harris was the first African American to walk in space during his flight on the Discovery in 1995.

  • Many others followed, including Michael P. Anderson who lost his life in 2003 onboard the space shuttle Columbia along with six other crew members.

In addition to bringing to NASA their knowledge and professional talent, astronauts are also willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of exploration and discovery. We will never forget the ultimate sacrifice of Ron McNair and Michael Anderson, and we will forever honor their legacy of goodwill, hope, and achievement. 

These heroes ventured beyond on behalf of all humankind, and their selfless acts have a profound ability to bring us all together. No one knows this better than actress Nichelle Nichols, who brought to life the groundbreaking role of Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek series. She was part of an amazing entertainment vision of the future, and as a result, a whole new generation dared to dream of some day flying in space. By playing the only African-American and female bridge officer on the fictional starship crew, Nichelle inspired both girls and African-American children everywhere. Later she took this inspiration to the next level by helping NASA recruit the first class of female and minority astronauts that I mentioned earlier. Nichelle Nichols, in addition to being a star, has been a dedicated advocate for minorities and for NASA.

While Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans, its lessons are valuable to all Americans because it highlights core values that make our country so great. Many of these achievements by African Americans are even more amazing because they occurred in the face of great scientific and societal challenges. The perseverance, courage, independence, service, and freedom they exhibited are qualities that all past and future pioneers of the air and space frontier require. We as a nation continue to strive in equality and opportunity, just as NASA continues to pursue innovation in a global economy and creation of a diverse, technologically savvy workforce of the future. At NASA, we are proud of our efforts to partner with historically black colleges and universities, to ensure that education experiences are available to all including underrepresented and underserved populations, and to make our workforce among the most diverse in the nation and the world. As a result, Black history will always be a key part of NASA’s history.

And you are part of this history too – we all are. Living and working on the International Space Station 240 miles above literally showed me a single planet without borders: one human race and one Earth – world of diversity, of every race, background, creed and nationality.   We are strengthened by this diversity, which is helping us to achieve the impossible. Through events like Black History Month, we’re celebrating the wonderful contributions that all citizens bring to our common goal of advancing knowledge through exploration. We are furthering NASA and the nation’s commitment to opportunity. This history is our legacy, our yesterday. But it’s also here and now. And it’s the future – our future.

Together we will continue to reach new heights and reveal the unknown so that the things we do and what we learn will benefit all humankind.  

Innovation for Every Season

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After an amazing and intense summer of learning, a whirlwind of STEM excitement has carried us into the fall.  First, we had the conclusion of the Summer of Innovation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., October 23-24. Then, on October 25th I provided a message of inspiration to students in schools throughout the United States, Canada and South Africa. The Net Generation of Youth (NGY) Virtual Visit dialogue was part of an International Education Forum convened by Congresswoman Diane Watson in honor of educators and partners who use technology, inquiry and project-based learning, and NASA resources to inspire youth to aspire, achieve academically, and pursue STEM careers. 

During the visit, I had the pleasure of interacting with over 250 students from a variety of schools including: Dorsey High School and Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles, California; Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, in Stamford, Connecticut; and Oude Molen Academy of Science and Technology in Capetown, South Africa.

The students and staff responded enthusiastically to my presentation entitled “Living Your Dream . . .” where I shared perspectives from my life experiences.  I stressed the impact that a few crucial moments and mentors have had on my career, the importance of education, and the influence of my parents who are both educators. I responded to insightful questions from the students who asked about my childhood heroes, space exploration as a career option, the future of space tourism, the impact of microgravity on the body, motion sickness and astronauts, daily hygiene in space, and celebration of holidays in low Earth orbit.

Leland talks with students (inset) and in orbit on shuttle

Finally, I was energized by the ability to apply the latest online and multimedia technologies to reach out to students across the US and around the world.  How thrilling it is to have teachers and students chatting with their peers and with me, a NASA astronaut in Washington DC, and join in other interactive NASA activities like EarthKAM missions and Digital Learning Network webcasts. All of this really supports NASA goals in education, as well as the Agency’s Open Government plan and participatory exploration initiatives.  I look forward to additional activities like this one that enable us to engage students throughout the world with NASA’s mission and to collectively foster STEM education.  

NASA’s efforts launched as part of the Summer of Innovation continue to bear fruit, and this fall (or spring in other parts of the world) is the start of many more new beginnings.

Reach for the stars!

Leland

An Update from Leland Melvin

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Greetings students, educators, families, and organizations andwelcome to my first education blog.

I have had an exceptional first week as associate administrator for education at NASA. I traveled to Langley Research Center toattend a senior staff retreat and met with my team at NASA Headquarters. I alsoconducted a media roundtable and live shot television interviews on Wednesday,October 20.  But it really was apleasure to close out this week by attending the first USA Science andEngineering Festival on Sunday.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival launched earlierthis month with activities in schools in the DC area. The festival concludedwith a huge event this past weekend on the National Mall and other spots inDC.  NASA had a large presence withover 28 booths and joined nearly 500 other groups. I spent time at the NASAareas on the Mall and also at Freedom Plaza interacting with people of allages. It was great to see so many young people out there getting involved withscience and engineering.  NASAAdministrator Charlie Bolden came by, and Nobel Prize winner John C. Mather, whois an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, gave a talk. This wasa treat for festival participants, and I am grateful that they were able toparticipate. Charlie has established an unprecedented NASA focus on math andscience education, and John is an inspiration to all of us.

The many NASA booths featured a variety of hands-onactivities, demonstrations, exhibits, and banners. Kids had their photos takeninside a full-size spacesuit, tested how their grip changes when wearing aspacesuit glove, teamed up to practice docking the space shuttle, and watched awind tunnel demonstration.  Thoseare just a few highlights of the amazing things that were happening.

All who visited the NASA booths could also see the exciting NASASummer of Innovation calls to action everywhere – “Imagine it. Explore it. Doit!”  This is what we have beenurging the nation’s middle school students to do since June when we kicked offthis project in response to the president’s Educate to Innovate campaign.  I am proud of the national effort thattook place to engage middle school students in hands-on science, technology,engineering and math activities during the summer break. We reached more than75,000 students, and I anticipate many more in years to come.

The pursuit of the minds and career ambitions of America’syouth is as challenging and important to humanity as the quest for space.  I can say from personal experience thatboth journeys are equally exciting and rewarding. A student tries on a space helmet at the USA Science & Engineering fair.They are also dependent upon oneanother, because our continued discovery and progress on Earth and in spacewill require the energy and innovation of the next generation. I turn to this newfrontier in education with the knowledge that this is a team effort and willrequire dedication of countless individuals.

I want to thank everyone – the NASA staff supporting ourbooths, the other organizations exhibiting at the expo, and the families andorganizations that brought young people to this amazing event. Everything youare doing is helping inspire tomorrow’s explorers today. I truly believe in ourpower to change lives, and this weekend’s activities are true examples of this.We are empowering our youth to take charge of their destiny and help create abetter future for us all.

Reach for the Stars!
Leland