Space Day 2003


Program encourages students to reach for the skies


From the first powered flight 100 years ago to the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia this year, flight and space travel has fascinated our nation. On May 1, “Space Day 2003 … Celebrating the Future of Flight” will try to make sure that continues with programs across the nation to encourage more children to see the wonders of the cosmos.

While the goal of the educational initiative, co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. and astronaut John Glenn, is to get kids to be drawn to the stars, the work starts on the ground.

More than 75 groups are sponsoring programs. Here, about 250 students from eight Chicago and suburban elementary schools will spend a day at DePaul University learning about space, presenting space-themed science experiments, taking part in an interactive program featuring NASA’s 2003 Mars Exploration Rover and working in teams to understand the challenges of Mars exploration.

To prepare, students at Graham Elementary School in Chicago created an interactive model of the galaxy; students at Bateman Elementary School in Chicago studied how crops could be grown in Mars-simulated soil, and students at Chicago’s Kellogg Electronic Research Academy tested ways to measure the moon.

“Our students came away with an amazement of the size and scale of things in our universe,” says Kellogg teacher Regina Biros. “Some of our students want to be astronauts or scientists, but they’re also learning there are all different ways to be involved in space, like designing a space suit.”

Also on May 1, PBS’ Bill Nye the Science Guy will host a one-hour special offering behind-the-scenes views of the upcoming Mars Exploration Rover mission, which will send twin robotic explorers to the Red Planet at the end of May. WYCC Channel 20 will carry the program live at noon.

“Last year, a student told us she learned that girls could be scientists and girls could be astronauts,” says Karen Cullen, assistant director of the NASA center for education and outreach at DePaul. “Part of our goal is to show there are people from all walks of life contributing to NASA missions. We hope they can see themselves in that role someday.”

Following the program, students at DePaul will work in mission teams to launch small rockets, simulate air-bag landings and navigate robot rovers. In another Space Day program, 500 elementary schools across the country, including 17 in Illinois, will participate in the Student Signatures in Space (S3) project.

Participating schools are sent giant posters for students to sign, along with supporting educational materials. Once the posters are signed and returned, they are individually photographed. NASA will include the negatives in a future space shuttle mission. S3 participants receive ongoing mission status reports and related information. After the mission, the posters are returned to the schools for display, along with an official NASA certification verifying the signatures flew in space.

“The space shuttles are very cool but they’re so far removed from our student’s everyday lives,” says Kathy Hamilton, a third-grade teacher at Seventh Avenue School in LaGrange. “The S3 program connects them to a shuttle launch in a real way. It’s a way to draw them in and make them feel personally involved and interested in space exploration.”

For information on Space Day, or ideas about family aerospace activities, visit


-- Monica Ginsburg


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