Monday, June 02, 2008

ISDC 2008 - Teachers in Space

Ed Wright - Teachers in Space: Pathfinder Selection Competition

Teachers in Space was started in the 1980's at NASA. Then Challenger accident happened. TIS was replaced with "Educator Astronauts" which means the teacher leaves their job to become an astronaut, and doesn't have much of an opportunity to bring the lessons back to the class.

The goal of this new TIS idea is to revive the original dream, but to work with the suborbital vehicles. They would like 200 teachers per year to fly - 4 for each state. NASA has lost the goal of reducing the cost of space access with Constellation. This will involve more money to send fewer people to space. A slide documented the trend of the number of NASA pilots and non-pilots to space. It continues to shrink. Ed asks what message this sends to kids. He also shows a downward slope in a plot of NASA astronaut recruitments.

TIS has donations of 5 flights from 5 companies, plus US Rocket Academy has purchased a block of flights from XCOR.

They don't have the funds or experience for the program yet, so they are doing experimental programs first. They will have different rules for different Pathfinder programs. They announced 2 at last year's X PRIZE Cup. One was for math and science teachers, and one was for general teachers. Both are now open. The idea is for the teacher to show what they can do on a suborbital flight. They will select the first 2 astronauts in the Fall after narrowing the list to finalists. The announcement will be at a teacher's conference.

In the Fall they also plan to announce a 3rd Pathfinder competition. The rules will be different. The specifics aren't clear yet. Some ideas are competitions for student teachers, American Indian teachers, a state-specific competition, or teacher bloggers. All are possible. They'll learn from the Pathfinders to help them with the full-scale effort.