Space contact may increase science and math interest

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By The Kentucky Standard Editorial Board

“The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. …

“We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”

President Obama spoke these words during his State of the Union address this year. Along with a need to come together politically and address our budgetary problems, he stressed the importance of education beyond a high school diploma and the need to instill a love of learning in all students. As a nation we need to rise above our current standings and stand at the top of education, especially in math and science. It is in those areas where innovations often come and new technologies are born.

The Nelson County School System took a giant step toward that goal last week when several Foster Heights Elementary School students spoke with astronaut Catherine Coleman as she orbited the Earth aboard the International Space Station. The conversation, which lasted a brief nine minutes, took place via amateur “ham” radio contact. Students were allowed to ask a variety of questions and they took the opportunity to heart. Some asked questions concerning what the astronaut eats and how she sleeps while in space. Others wanted to know if we would ever live on other planets.

Although the group asking the questions was comprised of elementary students, Nelson County Area Technology Center students made the contact via ham radio possible. The area technology students have talked with astronauts before. In October, an unscheduled contact with another astronaut aboard the International Space Station was made via ham radio. The students have made a few more impromptu connections with the same astronaut since then, all thanks to the antenna equipment installed with the help of grants in the latter half of last school year.

In addition to contacting astronauts, the antenna has been used for other things. Last spring, several students helped record telemetry for a suborbital cube satellite mission operated by NASA and the Kentucky Space program. As a result of their work on the mission, two of the students were featured in CQ, a national magazine for ham radio operators.

The students’ most recent project was launching a weather balloon in December. They were able to record temperatures for about an hour before it got out of range.

All this experience serves to teach kids how to enjoy science and mathematics, areas in which many American schools are lagging sorely behind, said Charlie Cantrill, an information technology teacher at KY Tech.

It is the inspiration to learn more about science that is the greatest benefit of programs such as this. Learning how to operate ham radio or talking with an astronaut orbiting the Earth serves as a launch pad for more studies into science and math, something our country desperately needs in its future. That nine-minute conversation last week may be the step needed to encourage our students to continue the study of math and science. That would be the greatest achievement.