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A Trip to the Space Exploration Educators Conference – Part 2

Posted by on February 22nd, 2018

Astronaut suit at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Our Consumer Health Coordinator, Debbie Montenegro, recently had the privilege of attending the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC). It is held annually at NASA’s Space Center Houston. In her role with the SCR, Debbie works with K-12 educators, particularly in the sciences, through outreach, classes, membership network, grants, and partnership opportunities. Here is a recap of her conference experience:

As an educator, and also previously a researcher, I was over the moon at the opportunity to meet fellow educators and scientists with a passion for educating the next generation about science. The SEEC conference is designed for K-12 educators, and I fit right in with my previous experience as a high school Chemistry teacher and current outreach work. SEEC is comprised of sessions and keynotes hosted by scientists, engineers, fellow educators, and even astronauts!

The conference sessions were very hands-on. Teachers from across subjects teamed up to conduct classroom activities, such as a “Mars Escape Room” or building small rovers. The Aerospace Education Member representatives from the Civil Air Patrol gave us lesson plans to teach elementary students about aeronautical flight. Mars Academy USA hosted a simulated medical EVA (extravehicular activity) mission on a Mars moon, Deimos. The Director of Education and Outreach at the Lone Star Flight Museum gave tours, and his passion for educating students shined through.

Regional “crew meetings” highlighted teachers from our region who completed their own “Year in Space” mission. The previous year, they had been tasked with performing outreach to other educators in their schools, districts, states or region for one year. Here they shared their results. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet teachers in the SCR region and talk to them about the awesome projects they have done and possibilities for the future.

Our conference keynote sessions started off with Astronaut Dorothy “Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger. She spoke to us about her experiences as a teacher and astronaut. Then we made a call to the “Teacher on Board” the International Space Station (ISS), Astronaut Joe Acaba. Joe answered questions LIVE from the ISS and the call was aired on the local news station. Between former teachers Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold on the ISS, NASA is celebrating a “Year of Education on the Station”.

Keynote speaker Dr. John B. Charles, PhD, Associate Director of the NASA Human Research Program spoke about health issues and experiments in space. He mentioned the Twins Study, where Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space while his twin brother, Astronaut Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth. Principal Investigations for this study took place in order to gain information on telomeres, cognition, sleep, biochemical profiles, fluid shifts, eye health, and more. Dr. Liz Warren, PhD, Associate Program Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, spoke about how studies on the Space Station have contributed to positive healthcare changes here at home. It might surprise you how many technologies now benefiting life on Earth started off with experiments in space. NASA has started a website for these “spin-offs” called NASA SpinOff.

In addition to all of these wonderful sessions, the absolute highlights for me were the field trips offered as part of the conference. In one trip, I visited the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) which houses a mock-up of the International Space Station inside a large pool. The NBL staff emphasized the importance of safety and described the measures taken for the health of the divers and astronauts. I also had the opportunity to visit the Planetary Analog Test Site and ride inside the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV), a special treat offered this year. It can move sideways, diagonally, and can climb rocky terrain pretty well. It was a bumpy ride, but it was amazing!

Debbie Montenegro is the creator and instructor for the NNLM course Astronaut Health: Science Education Resources and also teaches NLM’s Online Playground: K-12 Science and Health Education Resources.

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Debbie with the MMSEV

Neutral buoyancy lab mock ISS underwater

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