College of Science, Technology, and Health

NASA-funded Astrobiology Initiative Heightens Maine Students’ Interest in Science and Engineering Careers

High altitude balloon launch scheduled for May 9 in Farmington

Augusta, Maine:  An innovative astrobiology-scientific ballooning project for Maine high school and college students will hold its inaugural high-altitude balloon launch on May 9 at the University of Maine at Farmington, the Maine Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) announced today. The NASA-funded Astrobiology-Scientific Ballooning Pilot Project is designed to promote Maine student’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.  About 120 students from three 10th grade biology classes from Westbrook High School, Mt. Blue High School and Winthrop High School are participating in the pilot project.

“The Maine Space Grant’s astrobiology-scientific ballooning pilot project offers a unique combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning that gives students insight into how NASA scientists approach research questions, engineering design and mission goals.  We recognize the importance of interesting today’s students in future scientific and technological careers and believe this pilot project will demonstrate the effectiveness of engaging students in realistic research experiences,” said Terry Shehata, MSGC’s executive director.

The participating classes will launch their balloons with scientific payloads at 10:00 am on Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at Prescott Field on the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington.

The Maine Student High Altitude Platform (MeSHAP) Program sponsored by MSGC is an integrated high school-undergraduate initiative designed to increase students’ interest in STEM careers.  It aims to enhance students’ technical skills and research abilities in the development, launch, recovery and analysis of experimental payloads using high-altitude weather forecasting balloons and rockets.

The program brings together both high school and undergraduate university students.  In addition to the three high schools, the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine, and Maine Maritime Academy are participating in the undergraduate component of MeSHAP.  A $400,000 NASA Cooperative Agreement award funds the high school component of MeSHAP.

Faculty and students from the University of Maine, a participant in the MeSHAP undergraduate component, will coordinate the launch and recovery logistics for the high schools.

The MeSHAP high school project incorporates components of an astrobiology curriculum with the engineering, mathematics and physics focus of scientific ballooning. It involves students in the preparation of flight missions, from preparation of payload and engineering to launch, recovery, and data analysis.  The project also provides opportunities for high school teachers to build their scientific skills through related professional development activities.

The TERC-developed astrobiology curriculum and the Louisiana State University/NASA Wallops Flight Facility-developed scientific ballooning curriculum and workshop are aligned with the Maine Learning Results and are consistent with the latest revisions of the National Science Education Standards and the National Research Council’s Framework for Science Education.

Partners in this project include the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine, the Maine Maritime Academy, the Louisiana State University, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Applied Thermal Sciences, Inc., the Maine Department of Education, the Brunswick School Department, Lockheed Martin/ Maine Space Day, US Navy and Bath Iron Works, and MTN Enterprises, LLC.

The project builds on an innovative astrobiology curriculum that was introduced in eight Maine high school and two middle schools in 2008.  Championed by Senator Elizabeth Schneider, the 2008 pilot initiative brought together a coalition of partners for the purpose of developing and pilot testing a 9th grade astrobiology curriculum.  The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), Lockheed Martin and the Maine Space Grant Consortium provided funding for the curriculum.  The astrobiology curriculum was developed by TERC, a nonprofit educational organization based in Cambridge, Mass., with support from the National Science Foundation.  Partners in the effort included the Maine Department of Education, Lockheed Martin and the University of Maine Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research.

Maine Space Grant Consortium

The Maine Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) is an affiliate-based 501(c)(3) corporation and a member of the national network of consortia in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The network is funded by NASA's National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (also known as Space Grant).

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