Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teachers In Space

Wednesday is launch day, actually night 6:20 pm PDT, for space shuttle Discovery to photogenically blast into the heavens to park at the International Space Station (ISS) with parts for recycling pee into the clean drinkable water machine, a $300 million USD 31,000 pound truss segment to support the additions to the ISS, more items for the solar arrays and two teachers. Discovery's crew has to vacate and finish their spacewalking and scientific chores by March 26 because the Russians booked the penthouse suite with the Soyuz capsule making a grand entrance and bringing a new ISS crew. One space visiting team at a time and there is no place to fill up with rocket fuel in space yet.

More solar equipment means more power to tun the increasingly sophisticated apparatus at the ISS. Recycling urine is important because May heralds doubling the size of the crew from 3 to 6. The US space shuttle program is due to end in 2010. Up to this point there have been a multitude of spectacular successes and tragic failures accompanied by loss of life. Honoring the pioneer of teacher in space, NASA reopened its program for teachers after the 2003 mission failure and two teachers are now fully fledged astronauts hurtling out in maximum G's on STS-119. Those two teachers, Joe Acaba and Richard Arnold, are actually each going to don a spacesuit and go out for a spacewalk. (Discovery photos courtesy Reuters)

Richard Arnold started by teaching college preparatory courses in Morocco, then moved on to schools in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Romania. Joe Acaba, an ex-Marine, found his calling in the classroom after a tour in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps.

“As an educator,” Arnold said, “you presumably believe in the notion that education can take you anywhere. Here we are. We’re knocking on the door. We’re about to go to space.”

Selected for the space agency’s educator-astronaut initiative, Acaba, 45, began training in 2004 with nine others. 41, and ArnoldNow, NASA has put them on the same shuttle flight.

“We were both surprised when we were assigned,” Arnold said. “I was really happy to be flying with a classmate, and I was really happy it was Joe.”
Watching such a vivid night launch via NASA webcast is going to be fun. The weather forecast looks great barring any equipment failures like the one that scuttled the February 12th launch. Right now the crew aboard the ISS is doing some routine maintenace and spacewalking chores before Discovery arrives on Friday. The space station is nearing completion with all of the cool gadgets like Canada's robotic Mr. Dexter, Japan's Kibo Room (and a Japanese astronaut is on board this flight) and the view of Earth from the ISS space "porch" is said to be unparralelled. What a great teachable moment in science.

Just because I love his books and his whole attitude about science, I will tout Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest wonderful snarkfest in book form, The Pluto Files. It would be the perfect book to take into space when you have some downtime at the International Space Station.

Oh well, the space shuttle seems like its not going anywhere today due to a gas leak. (3/10)

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