Teacher in Space

More specifically, a Teacher Learning about Space Education 

Recently I was invited to a NASA & CASIS presentation about the International Space Station at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, WA. As a science teacher, the nerd meter was off the charts, “What, me? Take an afternoon to listen about being in space? You bet!”

NASA and the International Space Station (ISS) exhibit have been on a “Destination Station” Northwest roadshow. The purpose of their presentation is to share the wealth of ISS information readily available and how companies and students can take advantage of ISS research opportunities. Small breakout Q&A sessions for the local STEM educator community provide time to talk and share. For me, the afternoon provided a list of NASA/ISS/CASIS connections for my curriculum next year. It was stated that the “possibilities are endless; the rewards could be outstanding,” and I couldn’t agree more.

CASIS, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, is a non-profit manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and its aim is to create public awareness of National Lab research by making space science more accessible to the world. The US Lab on ISS is currently conducting research and development from big companies to small schools, with their focus ranging from STEM to life science to physical science. The question is, “Why do research on ISS at all?” The answer is supremely simple, the US Lab on ISS is like no other lab on Earth. The vantage, perspective, and conditions are not constrained by gravity. Experiments can be tested in a micro-gravity environment, thereby providing excellent environmental controls or removing the limiting factor of gravity. In the extreme conditions of space, forces and fluids will be less constrained, fluids will take a spherical shape, there is no “up” or “down” and sedimentation and solidification are not determined by gravity. There is much to learn, test, discover, and invent in a home laboratory that is away from home.

Astronaut Mike Barratt spent 6 months on ISS and shared a day in the life of living on the Space Station, traveling in both Shuttle Discovery and Russian Soyuz. It was “Zero to 15,000 mph in 8 minutes 45 seconds for orbital velocity.”

The dominant factor of being on the ISS is weightlessness. Apparently it takes a bit of effort and time to coordinate moving around, from flying “superman style” to using hands to locomote. I was surprised to learn how big the Space Station is, particularly when you shift your thinking from a traditional “square footage” to a 3D or cubic footage view. All available space is utilized and there is no up or down. It is a funny idea (prank) that if a crew member was carefully guided to the middle of a compartment, ensuring they were not in motion and where they could not touch walls, then they would be stuck. In micro-gravity, Newton’s laws of motion (or lack of motion) are in affect.

Since Mike is also a medical doctor, he spoke of anthropometry, recycling urine to water, and various medical tests and blood draws. In space, the neutral body position is not straight and thus requires rethinking work and sleep stations. In space, the internal organs are not affected by gravity and thus their positions are changed. In space, toilets require directed airflow since there is no gravity…let that sink in. In space, bone and muscle mass will decrease unless astronauts exercise daily with countermeasures, since there is no gravity to lift or move your body’s own weight against.

Astronaut Mike Barratt

Astronaut Mike Barratt

As a science teacher, learning more about ISS meant learning there is a wealth of student opportunities for my science classroom. There is so much happening on the station that the challenge is narrowing down which lesson, research, or connection to utilize. To assist with this, I had the pleasure of meeting with Pete Hasbrook from the ISS Program Science Office to discuss NASA and ISS resources available to educators. I am excited to spend time organizing my curriculum to make room for these research opportunities for my students next year.

MS Edu NASA-ISS Pete and Cheryl Chat

ISS Chat with NASA’s Pete Hosbrook

For more information about NASA or ISS or CASIS in Education go to;