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Educator Astronaut Program Continues

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Undeterred by the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven crewmembers on February 1, teachers continue to apply for NASA's Educator Astronaut program, which is designed to select and train three to six teachers for space missions. On the day Columbia broke apart on re-entry, more than 100 students, friends, and family members nominated teachers to be Educator Astronauts. Since February 1, NASA has received more than 1,000 teacher nominations. The program remains on schedule, even though shuttle launches are on indefinite hold while the investigation into the Columbia accident continues. Included: Information about how to apply for the Educator Astronaut program.

Calling Adventurous Earthlings:

Visit the following sites for more information on the Educator Astronaut program:

NASA's Educator Astronaut program

Student Nominations

Teacher Applications

NASA's Earth Crew

Also see the Education World special theme section The Space Age for lesson plans, activities, and resources for teaching about space!
The second loss of a space shuttle and its crew in 17 years has raised doubts in some circles about the need for manned space flight.

But not among educators.

Launched just a few weeks before the February 1 loss of the Columbia, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA's) Educator Astronaut program has seen a steady, if not accelerated, stream of applications since the shuttle accident.

"Some people have said they want to go even more now," according to Dwayne Brown, a spokesman for NASA's Educator Astronaut program. "Nothing has changed on the [program's] timetable. Yes, this is a tragedy; but the astronauts were doing something they absolutely loved, and they knew space travel was risky."

The deadline for nominations and applications is April 30, 2003. By early 2004, NASA plans to select for the program three to six teachers with backgrounds in mathematics, science, technology, or engineering.

Educator Astronauts will be charged with conveying the wonders of space exploration to our nation's youth, and with inspiring more students to pursue careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology.

"It's learning in a whole new light," added Dwayne Brown. "Who better to inspire the next generation than a teacher?"


Interest in the educator astronaut program has been high from the beginning; two days after announcing the Educator Astronaut initiative, NASA was receiving about 100 nominations a day, Dwayne Brown told Education World. In the week following the January 21 announcement, NASA already had received 218 resumes, and almost 50,000 unique visitors had logged on to its Web site, said Deborah Brown, a former teacher and co-manager of the Educator Astronaut program.

"I just think teachers and students are fascinated by the subject matter," said Deborah Brown about the response. "I've always said, you can use space and dinosaurs to teach a kid about anything. This is a chance for teachers to discover more and learn more."

"The country is aware of the importance of math and science," Dwayne Brown said. "People understand the importance of space exploration and teaching the next generation of explorers. Once we fully understand what happened [to the Columbia], we will move forward."


Education always has been an important part of NASA's work, but in April 2002, five months after taking office, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe named education one of the space agency's core missions. "Today, America has a serious shortage of young people entering the fields of mathematics and science," O'Keefe said during an address at Syracuse University. "This critical part of our mission is to inspire the next generation of explorers so that our work can go on. This educational mandate is an imperative."

"The Educator Astronaut program fulfills that core mission," Dwayne Brown noted.

NASA has been working with the U.S. Department of Education to develop programs to get children excited about science and technology careers, Deborah Brown told Education World, and the Educator Astronaut program is a big part of that effort. "By giving teachers a chance to experience science and technology at workwe are doing our part to help that mission along."

Current astronauts also will be traveling around the United States to talk about the program, Dwayne Brown said. "NASA sees this as a way to spotlight one of our most treasured resources -- teachers."

For the first time since 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on liftoff, killing the seven astronauts on board, including Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, NASA has assigned a teacher-astronaut to a space flight. Barbara Morgan, the back-up astronaut for McAuliffe in 1986, is scheduled to fly on a space shuttle mission, but no date has been set.

To learn more about Barbara Morgan, see the Education World e-interview Barbara Morgan: Always a Teacher!.

The Educator Astronauts will be assigned to space shuttle missions, and some will travel to the International Space Station, Dwayne Brown said. When they're not training for a specific mission, the teacher-astronauts will speak to students and organizations.

Before they hit the road or the launch pad, Educator Astronauts face almost a year of training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. They must meet the same requirements as other astronauts-in-training, including rigorous physical conditioning. Training includes a "Survivor" type stint, in which teams of astronaut trainees are deposited at an isolated location for several days to live off the land. "They have to know safety measures, contingency plans -- everything," Dwayne Brown said.

Those who want to help with NASA's education programs, but aren't quite ready to suit up for space travel, can apply for NASA's Earth Crew. NASA is seeking students, teachers, and other adults interested in supporting the Educator Astronauts' Earth-based missions. "For every one astronaut, there are hundreds of support people," Dwayne Brown said.

How to Apply:

Students can Nominate a Teacher to the Educator Astronaut program, or teachers can apply themselves. Additional application information is available on the Web site.