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From the classroom to space -- and back again

Rachael Manzer is going to space. An elementary and middle school science coach in Connecticut, Manzer is part of the Pathfinder 7, the first cohort of the recently reinstated Teachers in Space program.

Rachael Manzer is going to space. An elementary and middle school science coach in Connecticut, Manzer is part of the Pathfinder 7, a group of educators from across the country announced in July as the first cohort of the recently reinstated Teachers in Space program.

I spoke with Manzer, an 18-year education veteran, recently about the program, which aims to send teachers from the classroom to space -- and back again.

How does the program work and how is it funded?

It was a program started by NASA in which they were looking to fly two teachers. Unfortunately after the Challenger accident, the program was canceled. Everyone thinks it's very important to inspire and excite students and the commercial space industry thinks that teachers are the way to do it. They have brought back the Teachers in Space program and they are looking to fly over the next few years four teachers from every state. There are approximately 15 flights available for teachers that have either been donated by companies or have been purchased by the space foundation. The purpose of this is to be able to get teachers in space, but them return them back to the classroom so they can excite and inspire students to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

How will a teacher going to space impact a student in the classroom?

If you think back to the '60s and what inspired the general public to be interested in space, a lot of people would say it was the race to the moon. Look at the generations now. What's going to inspire them? One way that could be done is teachers. Imagine a student in the classroom saying, "My teacher has gone there." When you're talking about space and you're talking about concepts in physics and biology, they can relate to it because their teacher's been there. Beyond the teachers that are flying, the students will also have the opportunity to fly experiments. [The experiments] could go with the teacher. There are also commercial space companies that have designed spacecraft to take experiments up. Teachers in Space and having student experiments that can go to space really opens the door to space. It's not open to just a select few. It's open to everyone.

When will you go to space?

There is not a date set because the spacecraft are still under construction. They're looking at approximately two years.

When will more teachers be added to the group?

It is an ongoing application process. They're looking at bringing in three more teachers next year. We'll just continue to keep adding. In the meantime, we're doing workshops across the nation. We're reaching out to teachers. We're sending a message to students that "You can go, too." A lot of people have a dream of flying into space and the commercial space industry is tapping into that. But students now can say, "I can go too." And if you don't want to go, your experiment can go.

What's your space background?

I was selected into the NASA Education Workshop. That was a real big turning point for me in that I was able to go into NASA labs and I could see the real life application of science and engineering and mathematics. For three summers after that [I facilitated that program]. I worked at NASA Langley for a couple of years in the NASA Digital Learning Network to bring their cutting-edge technology and research to students across the country through video conference.

Photo: Rachael Manzer

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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