A Model U.S. National STEM Education Initiative for Grades 5-16
to inspire the next generation
of America’s scientists and engineers
NEW SSEP FLIGHT OPPORTUNITY – Mission 17 to the International Space Station
Experiment Design Phase: Fall 2022; Flight to ISS: Late Spring 2023
To explore this opportunity for your community – after carefully reading the SSEP Executive Summary below – set up a call or Zoom with Dr. Jeff Goldstein, SSEP’s creator and National Program Director; Center Director, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.
[VIDEOS] SSEP Description: Clip 1 (NASA), Clip 2 (NASA)
[VIDEOS] SSEP Launch and On-Orbit Operations History
NASA Release 7/20/17: SSEP Wins Award for Research on International Space Station
[VIDEO] SSEP Showcased at Congressional Hearing 11/5/19 – STEM in Era of Commercial Space
Scientific American feature article on SSEP: February 17, 2015
Breaking News from the SSEP National Blog
Subscribe to the Blog to receive email notification of breaking SSEP News. Use the Subscribe Box at the bottom of the right column.
- New Flight Opportunity for School Districts: Announcing Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) Mission 17 to the International Space Station, Starting September 2022 February 28, 2022
- WATCH LIVE: SpaceX-23 Return To Earth with SSEP Mission 14 & 15 Experiments, 9:05 am EDT, September 30, 2021 – Astronauts Complete Final Interactions at Undock Minus 2 Days Milestone September 29, 2021
SSEP / International Space Station Multimedia (click on toggles below)
The ISS Current Location tracker above was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA’s Columbus laboratory is a component of the ISS. Visit the ESA website for more information on the tracker.
This high definition video of your world is being telemetered to Earth LIVE from the International Space Station. To determine what portion of Earth is in view, use the ‘ISS Current Location’ toggle above. We invite you to get into the spirit of exploration on the frontiers of space – select an audio file below, expand the HDEV video window to full screen, and look down from 250 miles above Earth’s surface. Suggestions for other audio tracks are welcome:)
David Bowie’s Space Oddity, sung by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield on ISS (watch his video)
Star Trek TNG
About HDEV, from NASA: The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment aboard the ISS was activated April 30, 2014. It is mounted on the External Payload Facility of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module. HDEV includes four fixed cameras positioned to capture imagery of the Earth’s surface and its limb as seen from the ISS – one camera pointing in the direction the station is moving, two cameras aft (wake), and one camera pointing straight down at Earth (nadir). While the experiment is operational, views will typically sequence though the different cameras. Between camera switches, a gray and then black color slate will briefly appear. To learn more about the HDEV experiment, visit this NASA webpage.
In late 2015, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education suggested to NASA Headquarters that a Spot the Station widget, which could be easily embedded on any website, would be a wonderful way to extend ISS public awareness. The widget below was the result, and you’ll note that it is also found in the right column on all main pages of this SSEP website.
You are invited to use the widget to explore Station over-flights of your community, and even embed this widget on your website by clicking on the “About” button in the widget.
SSEP Executive Summary
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 students across a participating community the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments to fly in low Earth orbit (experiments conducted in a “weightless” environment). SSEP was first carried out aboard the final two flights of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program in 2011 (STS-134 Endeavour, STS-135 Atlantis). In 2012 SSEP transitioned to operations 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. A participating pre-college community typically engages 300+ students (at least 100 students) in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing. For an undergraduate community, it is expected that at least 30 students will be engaged.
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.
Of special note – SSEP garners extensive media coverage at local, regional, and national levels (over 1,200 articles to date). School districts effectively leverage media exposure from their participation in this high caliber STEM initiative, and at a time when STEM education is of national strategic importance (see SSEP in the News).
Important note: SSEP is not designed for an individual class or a small number of students in a pre-college community. Implementing SSEP for an appropriate-sized student audience is straightforward, and Implementation Plans from a large number of communities that have participated in SSEP are available on request.
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) where it is operated by the astronauts. It is a precious and limited research asset given that the mini-laboratory can only contain a single student team designed microgravity experiment. After a typical 4 to 6 week stay in orbit, the experiment will be returned to Earth for harvesting and analysis by the community’s student flight team.
Mirroring how professional researchers formally compete to obtain limited research assets, the participating community carries out a ‘call for proposals’. More specifically, the community conducts a local Flight Experiment Design Competition, engaging potentially hundreds of students in teams of typically 3-5, with each team vying for the community’s single experiment slot by proposing a microgravity research program that can be carried out in the mini-laboratory. The competition is conducted through formal submission of real (but grade level appropriate) research proposals by the student teams – as is standard practice for professional researchers. 50-80 flight experiment proposals are typically secured across a single pre-college community. At least 10 proposals are required for an undergraduate community.
Each community’s flight experiment is selected through a formal 2-step proposal review process. The final selection is carried out by the SSEP National Step 2 Review Board, which typically meets at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, or NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. The flight experiment then undergoes a 4-month NASA flight safety review at Johnson Space Center; laboratory refinement by the student flight team; handover to Nanoracks in Houston for integration into the SSEP experiments payload; and payload integration into the ferry vehicle for flight to ISS. SSEP experiment payloads launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
SSEP is not a simulation – this is very real spaceflight. This is very real student immersion in space science research, and a remarkable opportunity for a community.
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 2019 Conference page, and video clips of presentations archived on the Scientific Return and Reporting pages, see e.g., Mission 13 to ISS Scientific Return and Reporting).
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. The core element is a Mission Patch Art and Design Competition allowing hundreds of students across the community (down to grade K) to capture through art and design their community’s SSEP experience. Up to two Mission Patches accompany the community’s selected flight experiment to low Earth orbit. In terms of an experience that mirrors America’s space program, astronauts for every NASA crewed mission work with a NASA artist to design a mission patch that captures the mission objectives. It is worn on their flight suits and brands mission documentation. SSEP communities often use their selected flight patch designs on t-shirts, stickers, and lapel pins in the same way.
We invite communities participating in SSEP Missions 14-17 to use their Mission Patch competitions to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Landings on the Moon.
SSEP MISSIONS 14 to 17 TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION AND COMMEMORATION OF THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE APOLLO MOON LANDINGS
The flight of Apollo 11 to the Moon, crewed by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, may be arguably the most remarkable journey ever undertaken by humankind. At 9:56 pm EST on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on another world.
In 2019 the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and it is noteworthy that 1.5 billion people alive today were alive in 1969.
But the Apollo program included a total of 9 missions with a spacecraft traveling to the Moon, and 6 of those missions each landed 2 astronauts on the lunar surface. To date, 12 humans have walked on the Moon – a quarter of a million miles from our home world Earth. These missions took place 1968 to 1972 – from Apollo 8 – the first spacecraft to fly around the Moon in December 1968, to Apollo 17 – the final Apollo Moon landing in December 1972.
The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) is using SSEP Missions 14 through 17 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo Program, given SSEP program operations for these three missions span 2019-2022. SSEP Mission 14 started in September 2019, and SSEP Mission 17 is to start in Fall 2022.
SSEP Mission 14 – 17 communities can therefore use their participation in SSEP as a 50th Anniversary Apollo celebration, with multidisciplinary connections to STEM, history, and art. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary than engaging a community of hundreds of students in the real space program, and real spaceflight, on the frontiers of human exploration.
|SSEP Mission||SSEP Program Operations||Apollo Mission Dates|
|Mission 14||2019 – 2020||1969 – Apollo 11, 12; 1970 – Apollo 13|
|Mission 15||2020 – 2021||1970 – Apollo 13; 1971 – Apollo 14, 15|
|Mission 16||2021 – 2022||1971 – Apollo 14,15; 1972 – Apollo 16, 17|
|Mission 17||2022 – 2023||1972 – Apollo 16, 17|
We invite your community to use your SSEP Mission Patch Art and Design Competitions to both capture your community’s participation in America’s Space Program through SSEP, and celebrate these most remarkable journeys undertaken by the human race 50 years ago. It is an opportunity to celebrate the past, embrace the present, and inspire in our next generation … the future.
Strategic Curricular Connections to Science and STEM
Students can design experiments in diverse science 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. A curriculum, and other resources for teachers and students, supports foundational instruction on both the cause and characteristics of a microgravity (weightlessness) environment; the science conducted in microgravity and why; guidance for proposal writing; and the experiment design process that flows from the key essential question–
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 that correctly places content within a process landscape – an approach that embraces the Next Generation Science Standards, but also requires –
- design of an experiment in a Science discipline of choice
- a critical understanding of the space Technology, and associated spaceflight operations, used to transport payload to and from Low Earth Orbit and conduct microgravity experiments on ISS,
- a critical understanding of the Engineering specifications for the mini-laboratory, which provide real-world constraints on experiment design,
- Mathematics to design a viable experiment to operate in the mini-laboratory, through: refinement of sample (fluid and solid) concentrations and volumes, defining a timeline that is consistent with the experiment’s duration aboard ISS, and defining an approach to data analysis after the experiment returns to Earth.
In addition, student teams are writing real proposals that then go through a formal review process. This addresses vital skills in terms of historical research, critical writing and communications, and teamwork.
Through this authentic trans-disciplinary approach to STEM education, SSEP is designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, and more generally, address STEM literacy. For school districts—even individual schools—SSEP provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber and authentic STEM education program tailored to community need. With the Mission Patch art and design competitions, SSEP is more appropriately designated an authentic STEAM initiative.
Appropriate Lead Institutions to Conduct this Program
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.
SSEP’s Remarkable Program Heritage – Flight Opportunities to Date
Since program inception in June 2010, there have been 18 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 16 to ISS. A total of 203 communities have participated in the program, reflecting 42 States and the District of Columbia in the U. S., 5 Provinces in Canada, and Brazil and Ukraine each conducting national competitions. Thus far 62 communities have participated in multiple flight opportunities – 42 communities conducting four or more flights – reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.
Through the first 18 flight opportunities (through Mission 16), a total of 134,600 grade 5-16 students across 2,822 schools were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, 27,237 flight experiment proposals were received from student teams, and 340 experiments were selected for flight. Through Mission 15, 173,400 students across the entire grade preK-16 pipeline were engaged in their communities’ broader STEAM experience, submitting 144,779 Mission Patch designs.
319 of 340 experiments selected for flight through Mission 15 have now flown. 27 Mission 14 experiments launched on SpaceX-21, December 6, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Space X-21 and returned to Earth on January 13, 2021. Another 11 Mission 14 and 15 experiments launched on SpaceX-22, June 3, 2021, and SpaceX-23, August 29, 2021. 21 of 25 Mission 16 experiments are to launch on SpaceX-25 in Fall 2022.
For more information on SSEP Missions to date–
Explore the SSEP Launch and On-Orbit Operations History page, which provides a sense of the already rich history of the SSEP Program. Here you will find s list of SSEP missions and payload designations, videos of all SSEP launches, a list of all astronauts that have operated SSEP experiments, and videos of astronauts operating the experiments.
Explore the Flight Opportunities to Date page, which provides launch and landing dates, and information on the ferry spacecraft, astronaut crews aboard ISS during experiment operation, and the SSEP flight experiment payloads.
Explore the separate SSEP website – the SSEP Community Network Hubsite – which is dedicated to the participating communities and the over 1,370 organizational partners at the local level. At the Hubsite, you can read profiles of the participating communities, see a map of the Community Network, read about the selected flight experiments and flight Mission Patches, explore the 1,200+ media articles on SSEP, and watch videos of student teams reporting out at the SSEP National Conferences in Washington, DC.
NEW Flight Opportunity Starting September 2022 – We Invite Your Community to Come Aboard
February 28, 2022: Announcing SSEP Mission 17 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 nineteenth SSEP flight opportunity – SSEP Mission 17 to ISS – which provides for an experiment design competition Fall 2022, and a ferry flight for the selected flight experiments to ISS in Late Spring 2023. SSEP Mission 17 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: September 1 to November 2, 2022. 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): September 1 – November 2, 2022
- Flight Experiment Proposals due to your lead institution: November 2, 2022
- Local Step 1 Review Board selects 3 finalist proposals, submits to NCESSE: November 11, 2022
- Formal selection of your community’s flight experiment: December 15, 2022
- Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload to ISS on SpaceX Dragon, estimated launch date: Late Spring 2023
- Ferry Flight of SSEP Payload back to Earth: typically Launch Plus 4 – 6 weeks
- SSEP National Conference for students: late June or early July 2023, most likely held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC, the site of the 2011 through 2019 Conferences
Letters of Commitment of Funding from Participating Communities: due August 22, 2022
Mission 17 to ISS Starts in Participating Communities: September 1, 2022
Interested communities are directed to contact NCESSE as soon as possible, but no later than April 30, 2022 – EXTENDED to JUNE 15, 2022, to explore participation. It typically takes 2-3 months in advance of program start to plan and fund the program in a community (funding with assistance from NCESSE if required – see below).
Dr. Jeff Goldstein, SSEP National Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Center Director, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education
SSEP provides significant flexibility for a community to design a program to their strategic needs in STEM education—
- Appropriate Community Size: 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
- Required Student Engagement: a participating pre-college community typically engages 300+ students in the grade 5-12 range (at least 100 students) in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing. For an undergraduate community, it is expected that at least 30 students will be engaged, corresponding to at least 10 proposal teams.
- Broader Student Engagement: a community can engage all students Grades K-16 in the mission patch art and design competitions. These competitions also provide the community an opportunity to extend SSEP participation to grade levels and student populations not involved in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing.
- Cost: (please read this entire paragraph) SSEP is a bold commercial space venture in partnership with Nanoracks LLC. It is not funded by NASA. The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, must recover the actual costs for the program, including: lease of commercial space for the experiment on the SpaceX rocket and aboard ISS; all flight services to and from low Earth orbit; SSEP program delivery; and ongoing support for the community. Each community has payload – their experiment – transported 250 miles above Earth’s surface, and safely returned to Earth after 4-6 weeks aboard ISS. This is expensive – it costs $27,000 USD for a community to participate. We recognize the significant challenge in securing underwriting in the current financial climate, but we do not want a community to be denied participation due to lack of funds. The Center is therefore committed to try and find funding for any community in the U.S. and Canada interested in participating, but is lacking in financial resources. The Center found full or partial funding for 226 of the 331 SSEP community programs undertaken as part of the first 18 SSEP flight opportunities, and we now have active relationships with a national network of a few hundred funders. If you are interested in this program, let us help.We have also assembled the following suite of resources for fundraising:
- a bulleted list of powerful SSEP talking points that can be called upon when talking to a potential funder
- extensive experience successfully talking to funders about SSEP on behalf of interested communities
- databases of funders on a regional and local level, that allow us to rapidly do a search for appropriate funders
- a proposal template with straight-forward sections that address a community’s demographics and strategic needs in STEM education. The template allows a proposal to be written and submitted to a funder (if needed) with no more than a 2-3 hour investment of time.
Strategic, National, and Local Partners
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of 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 a strategic partnership with 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. Visit the Strategic Partners page to read about their SSEP programmatic roles and responsibilities.
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:
- in the U.S. – the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and Subaru of America, Inc.
- in Canada – Magellan Aerospace.
To read more about these partnerships, visit the National Partners and Sponsors page.
Partnership is truly a hallmark of SSEP. Over 1,370 organizations have supported 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.
Phase 1 of SSEP was a unique and historic opportunity for students to propose experiments to fly aboard STS-134 and STS-135, the final flights of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. We wanted the final voyages of the Space Shuttle to also mark a new beginning for student experiments in space, enabled by the new age of commercial space – the new private sector of companies providing transport services to and from low Earth orbit. This Phase 2 of SSEP provides communities of grade 5-16 students the ability to design and propose real microgravity experiments, just like professional researchers, for operation by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
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.
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—
let us help your students step into the shoes of scientists and engineers … right now.
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