SSEP Important Update: January 13, 2011

Beginning with this post, we will be periodically posting an UPDATE at this SSEP National Blog, to track multiple aspects of SSEP including critical deadlines. Please encourage all students, teachers, and individuals interested in following SSEP to subscribe to this Blog for email notification of new posts. You can subscribe at the bottom of the right column.

Update on STS-134 Launch Date

NASA announced on Tuesday January 11, 2010, that they have identified the cause and a solution for the cracks in the external tank for STS-133, the final flight of Shuttle Discovery. See coverage at CNN. It appears that STS-133 will launch no earlier than February 24, that the final flight of Endeavour on STS-134 will now be pushed to April 18, and STS-135, the final flight of Atlantis assuming Congressional authorization, has been pushed back to launch late in August (which is one of two requirements for SSEP on STS-135, see below.)  NASA has not yet updated the launch date on the STS-134 page.

STS-134 Critical Timeline Revised

We have revised the STS-134 Critical Timeline page, which now lists the multiple launch delays, and whose milestones now track an April 1 launch for STS-134. We will again revise this page once NASA officially pushes the launch to April 18. All student flight experiment teams should carefully read the newly revised Critical Timeline page—including the introductory paragraphs—to see how the remaining milestones are tracking.

STS-135 SSEP Opportunity:
Final Flight of Atlantis, and Final Flight of American Space Shuttle Program
Important Deadline—Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On December 22, 2010, NCESSE announced that the Student Spaceflight Experiments program will be conducted on the final flight of Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135), which will also be the final flight of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. This, however, assumes that NASA officially announces the flight, and a STS-135 launch date no earlier than August 31, 2011. NASA is currently deep in preparations for the STS-135 flight, and is awaiting final Congressional allocation of funds. Regarding launch date, we are already hearing that launch will not take place any earlier than late August, see CNN. NCESSE believes there is an exceptionally high probability that STS-135 will be a go.

Given that the communities participating in SSEP for STS-134 are now up to speed on the SSEP program, which was a significant learning curve and investment of time, we’d love to see some of these communities extend the experience to STS-135, and as before, NCESSE would work hard to identify funding for interested communities—which should now also be easier given both the visibility and on-the-ground success of the program for STS-134. NCESSE found funding for 11 of the 16 communities currently participating in the program.

There will also be a number of differences between SSEP for STS-134 and for STS-135, all favorable:

1. We will be using the same MDA mini-laboratory, but the slide prootocol will now allow introduction of an agent like acetic acid at the end of the flight to shut down biology in an experiment before the shuttle de-orbits.

2. The Master List of Samples will be significantly expanded to include addtional fluids and solids, and we want to solicit help from the current community network in identifying what they would have liked to see allowed.

3. All baseline resources for SSEP are now developed, which means that if a funding organization can be found rapidly, NCESSE will allow communities to start the program right away, giving communities up to 12 WEEKS for experiment design, before proposals are due May 12, 2011. This is nearly double the time available for STS-134, and you would already be familiar with the program.

Important information- see the Critical Timeline for STS-135

Again, we will work very hard to identify funding for communities interested in continuing with STS-135. But many of the funding sources serve States, and will likely only support a single community in your State. We therefore request that any community interested in wanting to continue their participation in STS-135 inform NCESSE by Tuesday January 25, and if you would like our help in fundraising. We need to know this quickly so that if other communities in your State ask for fundraising assistance, we give your community priority as we seek funds.

Emblem Update: Important Deadline: January 31, 2011

NCESSE announced on November 21, 2010, the opportunity for communities to hold a design competition to design an emblem to fly on the Shuttle. The requirements for broad student engagement were contained in the announcement, and the due date for receipt of the emblems in Washington, DC, was originally set for December 10, 2010. However, due to the launch delay of STS-134, we extended the deadline to close of business (5:00 PM Eastern Time) on January 31, 2011.

Of the 16 participating communities on SSEP for STS-134, 15 indicated they would be sending an emblem. However, we have only received emblems from Jefferson County, Kentucky; Canyons School District, Utah; and Ballston Spa, New York.

This remains a remarkable opportunty for students to design and fly an emblem of their involvement in SSEP in space, and on a historic Shuttle mission. We are also going to post each emblem on this website, along with the story of its development. We wanted to provide a heads-up that the deadline is rapidly approaching, and NCESSE will not accept emblems after January 31.

National Conference Update: Important Deadline: January 20, 2011

NCESSE has been working with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) to explore whether the SSEP National Conference could be held at the Museum in late June or early July. The conference would be a venue where student teams – and not just those whose experiments moved on to flight – could have their own conference, with students conducting oral and poster presentations on their experiment designs. The idea is to give the students participating in SSEP the ability to be immersed in the experience of a real science conference (see #7 on the Community Program page.)  And the prospect of the SSEP National Conference taking place in the most visited museum on the planet, and in their new Moving Beyond Earth gallery with the gallery open to the public, so the public can view the conference, is pretty amazing.

The issue, however, is that an internal NASM review committee needs to be presented a formal proposal, to assess whether what we are envisioning is even feasible. This in turn requires us to identify the possible dates and the total number of potential attendees (students and teachers). On December 3, NCESSE asked all participating communities to provide the information we need by December 15, 2010. But as of today, we have only received information on expected attendance from 5 of 16 communities, and a partial number from one other.

We have no numbers for: Shelton, CT; Crystal Lake Middle School, FL; one of the two schools in Orange County, FL; Lincolnwood, IL; Jefferson County, KY; Harry Burke HS in Omaha, NE; Central Consolidated School District, NM; Ballston, Spa, NY; Canyons School DIstrict, UT; and Seattle, WA.

We must have projected attendance numbers by January 20, 2011 from all communities interested in participating in the conference so that we can quickly get the proposal in at NASM. What we currently know: the conference would take place over 3 consecutive days, and we are likely proposing either June 28-30, or July 6-8, close enough to see July 4th in DC.

Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test Update

NCESSE received a preliminary report on January 10 from ITA on the Fluid/Sample Compatibility Test. For most of the experiments, loading into the MDA went well. But there were a number of issues, including: samples that did not arrive from 3rd party vendors in time; a sample that was sent in glass and arrived damaged and needed replacement; a sample that could not fit in the MDA well; duplicate samples; samples from 3rd party vendors whose volume was unacceptably large (a 40 lb box); samples that did not have the correct thermal control labeling; and hand written hard to read instructions. We estimate that if these submissions were for the flight experiments, 4 of the 16 experiment would likely not fly, and 2 more would have been compromised before launch. All student flight teams should treat this as a dry run for the flight samples. ITA is also putting in place new requirements based on what we learned from the logistics for the F/S Compatibility Test:

  • a typed packing slip, which includes cell phone numbers of all key contacts
  • no more shipments from 3rd party vendors. Your samples must be in a single box and arrive from you
  • plastic vials are to be used, and appropriately sized, with tape across the sealed cap and labeled with fine sharpie
  • a label outside of the box or shipping container if the sample needs refrigeration: ONLY 2 choices- room temperature  and storage in a standard refrigerator at ~36 deg F

In addition, it was clear that some teams needed thermal control (e.g. their sample was packaged with chemical warm packs with a limited operating life). But these teams did not indicate the need for late loading of their samples into the payload as a requirement. Without approval by ITA for late loading, i.e., loading just hours before handover of the payload to NASA, a team must provide their samples 1 MONTH IN ADVANCE OF LAUNCH. See the Critical Timeline for details. In light of the Test, NCESSE is working with ITA on a formal overview document with all requirements for hand-over of flight samples.

As we get closer to hand-over of your flight samples, it is important for student teams and their Teacher Facilitators to realize they will need to be available throughout the day and evening, seven days a week, and during holidays to respond rapidly to any issues that arise associated with payload loading. It will be important for ITA to have cell phone numbers of key individuals. It will also be important for teams to let vendors providing samples know that there could be an emergency request. Welcome to the real world of science and spaceflight!

n Our Own Words Page

If you haven’t yet, check out the In Our Own Words page at the SSEP Community Network Hubsite. It provides powerful reflections on the impact of SSEP. We can definitely use more quotes from your community leadership, teachers, students, parents, and funders. Currently we only have quotes representing 4 communities. Note that this page is a link in all SSEP national press releases. To send a quote for inclusion, use the Contact page.

SSEP In the News Page

The SSEP In the News page is now up-to-date with links to all articles that have been provided by the SSEP Community Network. There are now 36 articles, reflecting just 10 of the 16 communities participating in SSEP. Communities are encouraged to provide links on an ongoing basis to NCESSE for inclusion.

Suggestions for Upcoming Opportunities for Local Press Coverage

To assist you in getting media exposure for SSEP and it’s commitment to STEM education in your community, we wanted to suggest that there are a few upcoming milestones that might be worthy of local area media coverage, and that you might want to alert media to in advance. They are:

  • your experiment passing NASA flight safety review (no word yet on that announcement in the wake of the launch slip from February to April)
  • your Community Blog becoming operational: a site where the public can “tune in” and follow along with what is happening with the experiment, the experiences of the experiment team, and ground truth experiments conducted by student teams across the community
  • the date for submission of your experiment samples for flight integration
  • the flight itself

SSEP Community Blogs Update

As of December 23, 2010, Drew Roman had provided accounts and passwords to your designated administrators for all your SSEP Community Blogs. The Blogs provided by NCESSE included all navigation and design elements, and had placeholder content using St. Mary’s County as the example. All communities had the ability to review and comment on the design before it was cloned and handed to all 16 communities. The standard Word Press content management system allows your administrators to add custom content, and begin putting up blog posts right away.

Drew also put in place a schedule for training on blog administration via webinar. On January 7, he sent the schedule to all administrators which included 3 webinars per week for the weeks of January 10, January 17, and January 24. Given the flexibility of this schedule, NCESSE will not be scheduling any additional training beyond the week of January 24. If an administrator cannot make any of the scheduled dates, they can contact Drew directly to see if he can set a special training up, but there is a good chance that Drew will not have the time to do this given he’s already allocated considerable resources to making himself available during the current training schedule.

As the Community Blogs become operational, we will provide direct links to them from the Table on the SSEP Network Hubsite home page, and from the Community Profiles page at the Hubsite. Also note that the Community Blog Stream page at the Hubsite is an aggregate of  all blog posts from across the Community Blogs and from the SSEP National Blog.  The Community Blog Stream is a place to go to get the pulse from across the entire SSEP program.

Administrators from two communites have thus far gone through the training, including Diane Irwin from Ballston Spa Public Schools, NY. She rapidly revised content, and began posting. The Ballston Spa Blog is proividing a remarkable history of what is going on for SSEP in their community. Zachary, Louisiana, decided to use their own SSEP Blog format, and we have linked to their wonderful site.

Please let Drew Roman know when your Blog becomes operational, and we’ll set up the appropriate links.

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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. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. 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.