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Space research on the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory is open for everyone

This guest post was written by Dan Barstow, Senior Education Manager at the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.

Orbiting Earth every 92 minutes, the International Space Station (ISS) supports experiments in micro-gravity, exposure to extreme temperatures and radiation, Earth remote-sensing equipment, robotics, human adaptation, a unique closed system in isolation from its environment, and more. Built by an international partnership at a cost of $150 billion, it has had continuous human occupation for 18 years, with astronauts supporting its operations and experiments. In 2005, an act of congress declared the U.S. portion of the space station a national laboratory, with the goal of maximizing its use for innovation, which can benefit all humankind and inspire a new generation to look to the stars. 

Education is one of most important applications of the ISS 

Over the past several years, elementary, middle, high school and college students have designed, built, launched and operated hundreds of experiments in biology, physical sciences, Earth science, robotics, telecommunications, and technology development. Recent examples include: operating an on-orbit camera for Earth observation, programming a mini-robot on ISS to maneuver in micro-gravity, conducting plant experiments using the same equipment on orbit and in the classroom, writing code and downloading data to control a thermodynamics experiment, and genetic research using on-orbit gene replication equipment.

The simplest of these experiments can be operated at no cost, by downloading data from the ISS, using existing on-orbit assets. Others involve a small experiment box, with standard design protocols, launched for operation on the ISS or deployed as a satellite. At more advanced levels, students collaborate with scientists in on-going ISS-based research. All herald a new era of educational use of space, in which students move from simply learning about ISS, to actually conducting their own experiments. Through these experiments, students develop real-word skills in data literacy, engineering, health science, project design, and computing, while fueling their ability to create and innovate. This portfolio represents a growing community of researchers, educators, and students taking their scientific dreams beyond the limits of gravity.

Partnerships for authentic space-based research

The ISS National Lab is eager to further collaborate with informal STEM organizations and research institutions to bring the station’s cutting-edge research into real-world settings for K-20 students and inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators. The ISS National Laboratory provides an unprecedented opportunity for educators and learners to do experiments in a microgravity lab.

In particular, the lab encourages applicants to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to integrate ISS resources and/or include student experiments on ISS into related projects. We welcome inquiries about these capabilities and can provide advice and operational support, if warranted.

Further, a newly announced joint NSF-ISS funding opportunity (e.g. the NSF/CASIS Collaboration on Tissue Engineering and Mechanobiology on the International Space Station (ISS) to Benefit Life on Earth) provides another opportunity for collaboration. The informal STEM learning community may hear through its contacts with researchers that they are working on this proposal. As with all NSF proposals, these will require a Broader Impacts component. It is possible that informal STEM learning could be how that requirement is addressed, and, thus, you might consider collaborating with researchers who will be submitting proposals.

To learn more contact Dan Barstow, Senior Education Manager, ISS National Lab, DBarstow@iss-casis.org.