To kids, space travel may seem like something that only happens in a galaxy far, far away – but the reality is the democratization of space is closer than most people think, and sending student-designed experiments into space is already here.
Voyager companies Nanoracks and DreamUp are working to offer space-based projects to all students, from primary to post-doctorate levels. These projects are student designed, implemented and launched to the International Space Station (ISS), offering access to space research for anyone with a passion for science. To date, more than 500 experiments have been launched to space, engaging over 100,000 students across 160 school districts in 44 states.
One especially exciting program, STARward STEM, was born out of Cumberland County Schools in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fayetteville is also home to Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the country, and many of the students in Cumberland County come from military families. STARward STEM offers students access to transdisciplinary project-based learning, where spaceflight experiments are the project. The program, led by RTI International in collaboration with DreamUp, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and the Emerging Technology Institute, also supports the U.S Department of Defense’s efforts to provide high-quality access to STEM education opportunities for youth.
In 2021, RTI launched a call for student experiments alongside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Emerging Tech Institute. Of the three student teams selected, one represented a significant milestone – the team was the first group fully composed of deaf and hard of hearing researchers to send an experiment to the ISS. Their experiment, which explored the effects of microgravity on turmeric, launched on SpX-26 and spent 45 days on the ISS before returning to Earth on January 11.
When asked how this project inspired them as students to think differently about their futures, the team said:
“I want to be an astronaut or anything that will help me get to space!” – Leana M.
“It inspired me to never give up on my dreams.” – Landon U.
“Working with RTI and participating in the STARward STEM Design Challenge gave my students the experience of a lifetime from the beginning phases until our turmeric came back from the International Space Station. Not only did it give these students the opportunities to practice problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but it opened the door and showed them a world of possibilities. Students were able to meet Deaf adults working in the NASA program which showed them that their hearing loss does not determine their future successes.” – A teacher from Cumberland County Schools
The opportunities with DreamUp are limitless, ranging from individual school research projects to district-wide certified curriculums. Nanoracks’ engineering support oversees the entire process, from safety, to requirements, to booking a launch, and operating the research in space with the astronaut crew.
To learn more, please visit: www.dreamup.org.