Students and teachers from the West Des Moines Community Schools are helping NASA solve a problem.
They designed a prototype of a satellite deployment system and now five West Des Moines teachers are headed to Texas this week to test the equipment in a simulated microgravity environment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
“It is such a high level of engagement for these kids and it is stretching us beyond what we thought we were capable of doing,” said Indian Hills Junior High instructional coach Sarah Gould.
Teachers from Indian Hills and Stilwell submitted a proposed design to NASA’s Microgravity University for Educators program. Their proposal was one of only 12 student-derived designs in the nation to be selected by NASA for testing.
During the past few months, the teachers and their seventh- and eighth-grade students built the prototype while being guided by a NASA scientist. The students participating in the project are part of the district’s New Tech junior high teams, which deliver instruction through project-based learning.
The students recently received additional help from former flight director Tomas Gonzales-Torres and astronaut Clayton C. Anderson, who stopped by the science classrooms in late February on their way to teach at Iowa State University. The astronauts helped the students think about their designs and consider potential problems.
Working with NASA engineers and scientists at the Johnson Space Center, the teachers will experience how using tools in space differs from using them on Earth and mimic the training of astronauts as they participate in real time
NASA uses a deployment system to eject payloads such as cube satellites from the International Space Station. In recent years, a deployment system encountered trouble. Work to improve the mechanics and powering of the system has been a focus for NASA and its partners.