In February 2017, four teachers from Salado Intermediate School (Corey Baird, Colleen Gilchrest, Darcy Madsen, and Laura Tomlin) attended the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) at Johnson Space Center in Houston. They learned of an opportunity through ARISS, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, in which students could have a live question and answer session with an astronaut aboard the ISS. A proposal, including a technical and education plan, was submitted in April 2017. By mid-June, ARISS announced that the Salado Intermediate School (SIS) was one of thirteen organizations in the United States that would make contact with the International Space Station in the spring of 2018.
During the summer of 2017, Colleen Gilchrest and Laura Tomlin were invited to Johnson Space Center for a week-long training at NASA’s Network of States. The mission was to bring NASA educational resources to other teachers in our district. Resources and activities were shared with faculty and staff at SIS and Thomas Arnold Elementary School during fall in-service training.
To prepare students for contact with the International Space Station, SIS has incorporated NASA activities, lessons, and speakers into this year’s curriculum. These activities have helped increase student awareness and understanding of NASA’s space program. At the beginning of this school year, Steven Smith, NASA EPD Specialist, visited teachers and staff in our district to discuss the importance of cultural responsiveness in making student connections. Afterward, Mr. Smith held a workshop to present engaging lessons for our students at SIS.
Salado Intermediate School hosted a Science and Engineering Day last fall in which students rotated through a variety of stations. Although presenters were from many scientific fields, this year was focused on space and related technologies. An amateur radio operator explained how radio waves and satellites work. A local astronomer, Jeffrey McClure, shared photos he had taken of the stars and galaxies. Mr. Will Manning discussed his experience with satellite imagery while employed with NASA Goddard and the U.S. Army. KWTX Meteorologist Brian Germ explained the technology used to forecast and monitor weather. A spokesperson from the Mayborn Planetarium discussed planets and constellations. Fault Lane Flyers brought a glider plane to campus to explain aerodynamics. These and many other guests volunteered their time and resources to spend the day with our students.
Sixth grade science honors students also visited Space Center Houston last fall. Coincidentally, the International Space Station crossed the early morning sky as students were able to watch from the buses. While at Space Center Houston, Steven Smith, spoke to our group about the exhibits, including the Saturn V rocket. Frank Hughes, a former Apollo and Shuttle engineer, shared his experiences with our group. This same group of students was selected by NASA for a video conference with former astronauts and current directors of Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers, Dr. Ellen Ochoa and Robert Cabana.
A Star Party was held by SIS in December 2017 with the help of several area astronomers. Brandon Lawler from the Central Texas Astronomical Society explained the night sky using a variety of telescopes. Over 100 students and community members attended and several took their own telescopes. Viewing constellations and observing a super nova were highlights of the evening.
In February 2018, Jane Gensler, an aerospace engineer from NASA, visited with 6th grade students at SIS about how exercise on the International Space Station has progressed over the years. Students were excited to try out authentic harnesses from the space station. Ms. Gensler gave a presentation for the community at the Salado Public Library the next day. Also in February, three teachers from SIS (Karen Ewton, Colleen Gilchrest, and Laura Tomlin) presented a session to educators at the Space Exploration Educators Conference at Johnson Space Center. One of these teachers became certified to borrow lunar and meteorite samples from NASA.
ARISS representative, Ronny Risinger, will install required antennas and technology at Salado Intermediate on April 7. ARISS and NASA are providing all technology and expertise at no cost to the district.
The contact is planned to be live streamed on KWTX’s Facebook page and it’s website for all campuses, parents, and the community to experience. The Salado High School Film Squad will record the event and upload it to YouTube. The Salado Intermediate School looks forward to a day to celebrate space exploration during the week of April 16, when students will speak directly to an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Total time of contact will be approximately ten minutes, the time it takes the space station to travel between horizons. This will be a historical event for SISD and Salado. Congratulations to Colleen Gilchrest and Laura Tomlin for being selected Salado Intermediate School co-Teachers of the Year for the outstanding job they have done with all of these learning activities for our students.
ARISS is a joint venture by NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) to facilitate communication via Amateur Radio between astronauts aboard the International Space Station and schools and communities around the world.
Amateur, or “Ham,” Radio, is a popular service and hobby in which federally licensed participants operate communications equipment. There are over 700,000 licensed amateurs and nearly 2,300 ARRL-affiliated Amateur Radio clubs in the United States. Hams talk to each other across town, around the world, and even into space without the need for normal communications infrastructure, such as cell phone networks or the Internet. Amateur Radio is regularly used during natural disasters to help local emergency and served agencies (such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and state and local governments) respond when normal communications methods are disrupted.