Debbie Usie, a teacher from Northwestern Middle School in Zachary, joined educators from across the nation for the LiftOff Summer Institute June 28 through July 3 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The professional development program, sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium, selects teachers from across the U.S. to attend, increasing their knowledge of space education through LiftOff, a collaborative effort of Texas Space Grant Consortium members and affiliates, NASA and industry.
Usie’s participation was sponsored by the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium.
The teachers who apply for LiftOff are selected competitively and attend workshops organized around an aerospace or space science theme drawn from NASA’s diverse engineering and scientific research programs, according to a news release.
The theme for this year’s LiftOff — “Living in Freefall” — had a primary focus on microgravity, living and working on the International Space Station, and training for long-duration missions, Usie explained.
A presentation by Dr. Liz Warren, operations lead for the International Space Station Medical Project, opened the weeklong event.
Three astronauts spoke to the educators during the week. Don Pettit shared experiments conducted on the ISS, including numerous Saturday morning science activities conducted during free time. Former astronaut Clay Anderson shared experiences living and working aboard the ISS and Leroy Chiao discussed his spaceflight experiences.
Usie and fellow educators learned about spacesuit design from Su Curley, spacewalk preparation from Tim Hall and engineering challenges in freefall from Norm Chaffee.
The teachers visited the astromaterials lab where they viewed Apollo moon rocks and meteorites, the robotics lab, an Orion mock-up, ISS modules, a food lab and the neutral buoyancy lab.
“Being certified to check out the lunar and meteorite samples in order to share proven lessons in the classroom were huge highlights of the program,” Usie said.
Each teacher who attended the LiftOff Institute will return to their respective districts, train other educators and use the new resources in the classroom, the Zachary teacher explained.
“The LiftOff workshops prove that teachers and their students are excited about space science and exploration and the resources will be used to enrich STEM education for students nationwide,” said Usie. “The workshops also provide teachers with a rare and unique opportunity to spend a week working with professional scientists, engineers and astronauts at the cutting edge of space exploration.”
The LiftOff Summer Institute is a nationally competitive educational training for teachers.