A Model U.S. National STEM Education Initiative for Grades 5-16
to inspire the next generation
of America’s scientists and engineers
NEW FLIGHT OPPORTUNITY – Mission 6 to ISS (Go to 10/3/13 Announcement)
Experiment Design Phase: Winter/Spring 2014; Flight to ISS: Fall 2014
Watch Video Clips describing SSEP: Clip 1 (NASA), Clip 2 Download: Press Release PDF
Download: 3-page Program Overview for Mission 6 (MS Word)
Download: 2-page Overview used for SSEP Congressional Briefings (PDF)
Breaking News from the SSEP National Blog
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- SSEP FLIGHT OPS UPDATE: The Flight of Charlie Brown on Orb-2 – The SSEP Mission 5 Experiments Payload; NASA TV Live Coverage of SpaceX-3 Launch Today April 14, 2014
- Astronauts Enjoy Great Water on ISS! – Used to be Their Urine (What Did You Expect?) March 22, 2014
A careful read of this home page will provide an Executive Summary of the Program. The rest of this website provides a deeper understanding of program pedagogy and operations; guidance for how a community can come aboard; and resources to conduct the program.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) was launched in June 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in strategic partnership with NanoRacks, LLC. Designed as a model U.S. national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative, the program gives typically 300+ students across a participating community the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final flights of the Space Shuttle, and then on the International Space Station (ISS) – America’s newest National Laboratory. SSEP is suitable for students in pre-college grades 5-12, 2-year community colleges, and 4-year colleges and universities. SSEP also affords a participating community a high level of media exposure at a time when STEM education is of national strategic importance.
In 2012, SSEP was extended to international communities through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, NCESSE’s new international arm.
SSEP is about immersing and engaging
students and their teachers in every facet
of real science—on the high frontier—so
that students are given the chance to be
scientists—and experience science firsthand.
More broadly, SSEP is about a commitment to student ownership in exploration, to science as journey, and to the joys of learning.
Important note: SSEP is not designed for an individual class or a small number of students in a community. Implementing SSEP for an appropriate-sized student audience is straightforward, and implementation plans for a large number of participating communities are available for review.
Each community participating in SSEP is provided a very real research asset – a flight certified, straightforward to use microgravity research mini-laboratory, and guaranteed launch services to transport the mini-laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS). It is a precious and limited research asset given that the mini-laboratory can only contain a single student team designed microgravity experiment. An astronaut aboard ISS will conduct the experiment, and after a typical 6-week stay in orbit, the experiment will be returned safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis by the community’s student flight team.
Precisely mirroring how professional researchers formally compete to obtain limited research assets, the participating community conducts a local Flight Experiment Design Competition, engaging hundreds of students in teams of typically 3-5, with each team proposing a microgravity research program that can be carried out in the mini-laboratory and vying for the community’s single experiment slot. The competition is conducted through formal submission of real but grade level appropriate research proposals by the student teams – just like professional researchers. A minimum of 50-80 flight experiment proposals is typically secured across a single community.
A 2-step proposal review process selects the flight experiment for each community. The experiment then undergoes a formal 3-month NASA flight safety review at Johnson Space Center, laboratory refinement by the student flight team, handover of the experiment in the flight-mini-lab to NanoRacks in Houston, and payload integration for flight to ISS. SSEP experiment payloads launch from either Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, or from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, Virginia, on an Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft.
Stated more powerfully, SSEP provides each community its own – very real – Space Program.
An annual SSEP National Conference held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, immerses delegations of students in a real research conference where they formally present to their peers on experiment design and science results (explore the 2013 Conference page, and video clips of presentations archived at the, e.g., Mission 1 to ISS Scientific Return and Reporting page).
A suite of SSEP program elements—the Community Program—leverages the flight experiment design competition to engage the entire community, embracing a Learning Community Model for STEM education. One element is a Mission Patch design competition allowing hundreds of students across the community (down to grade K) to express their experience through art and design. Up to two Mission Patches accompany the community’s selected flight experiment to low Earth orbit.
Strategic Curricular Connections to Science and STEM
Students can design experiments in diverse fields, including: seed germination, crystal growth, micro-encapsulation, chemical processes, physiology and life cycles of microorganisms (e.g. bacteria), cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. SSEP is therefore relevant across all science disciplines, and allows all teachers of science across a community to immerse students in a fully authentic process of scientific inquiry. Content resources for teachers and students support foundational instruction on science in microgravity and experiment design.
The essential question driving experiment design —
What physical, chemical, or biological system would I like to explore with gravity seemingly turned off for a period of time, as a means of assessing the role of gravity in that system?
SSEP provides seamless integration across STEM disciplines through an authentic, high visibility research experience – an approach that embraces the Next Generation Science Standards, but also requires –
- an understanding of the space technology used to conduct microgravity experiments in orbit, and carry out real spaceflight to and from Low Earth Orbit,
- an understanding of the engineering specifications and design constraints of the mini-laboratory,
- mathematics to design an experiment to operate in the mini-laboratory, through refinement of sample (fluid and solid) concentrations and volumes, and experiment duration aboard ISS.
Through this trans-disciplinary approach to STEM education, SSEP is designed to inspire and engage America’s next generation of scientists and engineers. For school districts—even individual schools—SSEP provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber STEM education program tailored to community need.
The program is open to 5 categories of community, which provides a great deal of flexibility in implementing SSEP at the local level:
- Pre-College (the core focus for SSEP) in the U.S., (grades 5-12), with a participating school district—even an individual school—providing a stunning, real, on-orbit RESEARCH opportunity to their upper elementary, middle, and high school students
- 2-Year Community Colleges in the U.S., (grades 13-14), where the student body is typically from the local community, providing wonderful pathways for community-wide engagement
- 4-Year Colleges and Universities in the U.S., (grades 13-16), with an emphasis on Minority-Serving Institutions, where the program fosters interdisciplinary collaboration across schools and departments, and an opportunity for formal workforce development for science majors
- Communities in the U.S. led by Informal Education or Out-of-School Organizations, (e.g., a museum or science center, a home school network, a boy scout troop), because high caliber STEM education programs must be accessible to organizations that promote effective learning beyond the traditional classroom
- Communities Internationally: in European Space Agency (ESA) member nations, European Union (EU) member nations, Canada, and Japan with participation through NCESSE’s Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. Communities in other nations should explore the potential for their participation by contacting the Institute.
Flight Opportunities to Date
Since program inception in June 2010, there have been seven SSEP flight opportunities—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, which were the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 5 to ISS. A total of 68 communities have participated in the program. Thus far, 17 communities have participated in 2, 3, 4, or 5 flight opportunities, reflecting the sustainable nature of the program. Through the first six flight opportunities (complete data is not yet available for Mission 5 to ISS), over 100,000 grade K-14 students across 540 schools were given the opportunity to participate in their community-wide experience. A total of 21,600 grade 5-14 students were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, and 5,091 experiment proposals were submitted by student teams.
A separate SSEP website–the SSEP Community Network Hubsite–is dedicated to the participating communities and the over 350 organizational partners at the local level. Explore a map of the Community Network at the Hubsite.
Milestones (many of the links below are to specific pages at the Hubsite):
SSEP on STS-134 (experiment design Fall 2010; launched May 16, 2011) and SSEP on STS-135 (experiment design Spring 2011; launched July 8, 2011): 3,050 students formally engaged in experiment design, a combined 977 student team proposals received, and 27 experiments have flown – reflecting the 16 communities participating on STS-134, and 11 communities participating on STS-135. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for the final flight of Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134) and Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135). Read the flight profiles for SSEP on STS-134 and SSEP on STS-135.
Mission 1 to ISS (experiment design Fall 2011): 12 participating communities, 3,490 students formally engaged in experiment design, 779 student team proposals received, and 15 selected for flight. On May 22, 2012, the SSEP Aquarius payload of Mission 1 experiments was launched aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Dragon was the first commercial spacecraft to dock with ISS heralding in a new era in human spaceflight. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for Mission 1, the Mission 1 flight profile, the media coverage of SSEP on SpaceX Dragon, and the historic nature of the flight.
Mission 2 to ISS (experiment design Spring 2012): 11 participating communities, 3,930 students formally engaged in experiment design, 1,125 student team proposals received, and 11 selected for flight. On October 7, 2012, the SSEP Antares payload of Mission 2 experiments was launched aboard SpaceX-1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on the first operational flight of SpaceX Dragon. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for Mission 2, the Mission 2 flight profile, and the official announcement of selected experiments.
Mission 3 to ISS (experiment design Fall 2012): 17 participating communities, 7,200 students formally engaged in experiment design, 1,466 student team proposals received, and 17 selected for flight. On September 18, 2013, the SSEP Falcon I payload of 5 Mission 3 experiments was launched aboard Orbital Sciences Demonstration 1 (Orb-D1), the first flight of the Cygnus spacecraft to dock with ISS. Orb-D1 launched from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), VA. The SSEP Falcon II payload of 12 Mission 3 experiments launched from MARS on January 9, 2014, aboard Orbital Sciences 1 (Orb-1), the first operational fight of the Cygnus spacecraft. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for Mission 3, the Mission 3 flight profile, the Preliminary Announcement for the communities selected for Mission 3, and the historic nature of the flight of the SSEP Falcon I payload on D-1 Cygnus.
Mission 4 to ISS (experiment design Spring 2013): 11 participating communities, 3,080 students formally engaged in experiment design, 744 student team proposals received, and 11 selected for flight. The SSEP Orion payload of Mission 4 experiments launched January 9, 2014, on Orb-1, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), VA. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for Mission 4, the Mission 4 flight profile, and the official announcement of selected experiments.
Mission 5 to ISS (experiment design Fall 2013): 15 participating communities, 6,750 formally engaged in experiment design, 1,344 student team proposals received, and 15 selected for flight. The SSEP Charlie Brown payload of Mission 5 experiments is projected to fly to ISS in Spring 2014. Read about the Selected Flight Experiments for Mission 5, the Mission 5 flight profile, and the Preliminary Announcement for the communities selected for Mission 5.
NEW Flight Opportunity
October 3, 2013: Announcing SSEP Mission 6 to the International Space Station (ISS)
The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education announce the eighth SSEP flight opportunity – SSEP Mission 6 to ISS – which provides for an experiment design competition Winter/Spring 2014, and a ferry flight of the selected flight experiments to ISS in Fall 2014. SSEP Mission 6 to ISS is currently the only SSEP flight opportunity available.
Time Available for Experiment Design: Your Student Teams, led by your designated SSEP Local Team of Teacher Facilitators, will have 9 weeks from program start to proposal submission: February 24 – April 28, 2014. During this time, core activities include:
- introducing SSEP curricular content for foundational instruction on: the nature of microgravity, science conducted in microgravity, mini-laboratory operation, and experimental design
- defining student teaming, and facilitation of microgravity experiment design across all student teams
- each team writing a formal 5-page, grade level appropriate flight experiment proposal
- Experiment Design and Proposal Writing (9 weeks): February 24 – April 28, 2014
- Flight Experiment Proposals due to your lead institution: April 28, 2014
- Local Step 1 Review Board selects 3 finalist proposals, submits to NCESSE: May 12, 2014
- National Step 2 Review Board selects your flight experiment: May 29, 2014
- Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload to ISS, estimated launch date: Fall 2014
- Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload back to Earth: expectation is Launch + 6 weeks
- SSEP National Conference for students: early July 2014 and 2015, most likely held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, the site of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 Conferences
Letters of Commitment of Funding from Participating Communities: due February 17, 2014
Mission 6 to ISS Starts in Participating Communities: February 24, 2014
ASAP: Interested communities are directed to contact NCESSE as soon as possible to explore participation. It typically takes 3-4 months in advance of program start to plan and fund the program in a community (funding with assistance from NCESSE if required – see below).
SSEP provides significant flexibility for a community to design a program to their strategic needs in STEM education—
- A community of any size can participate, including a small school district, an individual school, a large inner city or suburban district, a cluster of rural districts, a college, or a museum/science center or other informal education led community-based effort
- The baseline SSEP program provides for typically 300+ students participating in the Experiment Design Competition in each community
- A community can open the competition to any grade level(s) in the grade 5-16 range, and through the provided elements of the SSEP Community Program, engage wider audiences (all grade levels, families, and the general public). The Community Program includes: a competition to design a Mission Patch to fly in space with your flight experiment, and a SSEP National Conference in Washington, DC. The Community Program also provides the means for a National Team of scientists and engineers to travel to your community for up to a week, and engage thousands of grade K-16 students—one classroom at a time; conduct family and public programs like those the Center conducts at the National Air and Space Museum; and provide professional development for grade K-12 teachers.
- SSEP is a bold new commercial space venture in partnership with NanoRacks LLC. The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, must recover the actual costs for the program (lease of commercial space for the mini-laboratory in the flight payload and aboard ISS, all flight services to and from low Earth orbit, program delivery and community support), but also recognizes the significant challenge to a community in securing underwriting in the current financial climate. That said, the Center is committed to trying to find funding for any community in the U.S. interested in participating. The Center found funding for 77 of the 93 SSEP community programs undertaken as part of the first seven SSEP flight opportunities, and we now have active relationships with a network of funders across the nation. If you are interested in this program, let us help.
Strategic, National, and Local Partners
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. SSEP is enabled through NanoRacks LLC, which is working in partnership with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. NCESSE, the Clarke Institute, and NanoRacks are therefore designated SSEP Strategic Partners. To read about the programmatic roles and responsibilities of the SSEP Strategic Partners, visit the SSEP Team page.
SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.
NCESSE and the Clarke Institute are proud to be working with the following National Partners on SSEP—the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Carnegie Institution of Washington, NASA Nebraska Space Grant Consortium, and Subaru of America, Inc., To read more about these partnerships, visit the National Partners page.
Partnership is truly a hallmark of SSEP. Over 350 organizations support SSEP at the local level, including: school districts, private schools, NASA Space Grant lead institutions and other universities, corporate foundations, businesses, community foundations, and local research institutions. These organizations are designated the SSEP Local Partners. To explore the Local Partners, visit the Communities & Local Partners page at the Community Network Hubsite.
SSEP was designed to be a keystone initiative for U.S. National STEM education, and to help inspire America’s next generation of scientists and engineers. Through the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, the International arm of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, SSEP participation is also being expanded internationally to reflect the multinational complexion of ISS operations.
We want SSEP to provide routine student researcher access to space via commercial payloads, to leverage the power of such access into a STEM education program delivered at the local level across an entire community, and to serve a network of such communities across the nation—even internationally.
Phase 1 of the program was a unique and historic opportunity for students to propose experiments to fly aboard STS-134 and STS-135, the final flights of the Space Shuttle. We wanted the final voyages of the Space Shuttle to also mark a new beginning for private sector sponsored student experiments in space. Phase 2 of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, launched June 2011, provides sustainable, ongoing access to space for communities of grade 5-16 students inspired to propose experiments for low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station, with transport aboard the NanoRacks manifest of cargo ships after the Space Shuttle era comes to a close.
To our children, who are America’s future in the 21st century—
be part of history … by making history.
To schools and school districts committed to STEM education—
together let’s help your students step into the shoes of scientists and engineers … right now.
PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS, DISTRICT SCIENCE OFFICES, PRINCIPALS, TEACHERS, AND OTHER COMMUNITY STAKEHOLDERS
INTERESTED? YOUR NEXT STEP: go to the About SSEP page for a comprehensive overview of SSEP, including a description of strategic STEM objectives, program elements, customization to community need, and cost.
All content on this website is Copyright 2014, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). Any use of this content without the permission of NCESSE is prohibited.