Tech to host NASA downlink

Tech will host NASA’s Inflight Education Downlink for the STS-129 space shuttle mission. The downlink, scheduled for 10:53 next Sunday, will allow the Soaring Eagle Question Contest winners to ask International Space Station astronauts their winning questions. Those invited to attend will view it in the Nursing and Health Services Building Auditorium. Clement Hall Room 212 will be open to all others and will show a broadcast of the NASA and NHS Building feeds.

“The NASA Education downlink event is a great opportunity, perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime chance, for students to engage in direct dialog with NASA astronauts,” said Sally Pardue, associate professor of mechanical engineering and interim director of the Millard Oakley Center for Teaching and Learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “We will be celebrating the value of ‘asking questions’ as a way of knowing more about what science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can mean to each of us as we reach for our dreams.”

Students will be divided into four age groups: kindergarten to fourth grade, fifth to eighth grade, ninth to twelfth grade and college.

A judging team comprised of students and faculty from Tech blindly selected 120 questions-30 questions from each age group-and ranked them.

The top five questions in each age group were sent to NASA for review. The top 20 students-five from the four age groups-will sit on stage and directly ask the astronauts their questions.

Astronauts Leland Melvin, Nicole Stott and Tech alumnus Barry Wilmore will be participating in the downlink from the ISS.

Although participants and audience members will be able to see and hear the crewmembers from space, the crew will not be able to see them.

Several VIPs were invited to attend the event. As of Nov. 9, Rep. Bart Gordon, Charlotte Gentry-niece of Charlie Hobaugh, STS-129 commander-and several of Wilmore’s family members had confirmed their attendance.

NASA’s downlink and the students’ interaction with the astronauts will be shown in a live feed on WCTE-TV, the local PBS station-channel 22 on Dish/Direct/antenna, 10 on Charter cable or on the second digital channel of any state-wide public television station.

The downlink program, established in 2001, gives participants the opportunity to learn what astronauts experience while working in space.

NASA’s downlinks last for approximately 20 minutes and are provided with no cost to the host organizations-excluding expenses like promotional materials and paid man-hours. They are facilitated by NASA’s Teaching from Space Office in conjunction with the Johnson Space Center’s Public Affairs Office.

These offices help host organizations make the downlink event a highlight of comprehensive STEM education activities.

The amount of downlink opportunities during ISS increments vary and are determined by NASA’s mission operations.

As of April 2007, more than 30 million students have participated in in-flight education downlinks. Many of these students were reached with the help of extensive educational broadcasting: NASA broadcasts downlinks live on NASA TV and streams them on its Web site.