History of Space Explorers, Inc.
Space Explorers, Inc. (SEI) was founded in 1994 upon the idea that students involved in the excitement of NASA missions could be highly motivated to pursue math, science, and technology fields. This was the vision of George D. French, Jr., who chaired a civilian review of NASA for Congressman Toby Roth in 1990 and was appointed to represent Wisconsin to the Aerospace States Association (ASA) in 1991 by then-Governor of Wisconsin Tommy Thompson. SEI was fostered and encouraged by NASA Education headquarters, the network of state based Space Grant Consortia, the National Space Society, and the ASA.
In an agreement with NASA Ames Research Center and Scott Hubbard, SEI's first educational outreach program, Moonlink®, became the lead Education and Public Outreach (EPO) element of NASA's Lunar Prospector mission, which was launched in 1997 and headed by Dr. Alan Binder. Moonlink® allows students to research the moon using data from actual NASA missions. SEI was awarded a small grant by NASA’s Space Grant Consortium office at NASA Headquarters. Dr. Julius Dasch, who then headed the Space Grant Consortium office, facilitated this grant to test and review the developing Moonlink curriculum in Wisconsin. A board of six NASA and National Science Teacher Association teachers reviewed the curriculum over a period of one year, helping SEI strengthen the standards-based orientation of the Moonlink curriculum. Within its first year, Moonlink was being used in more than 1,000 classrooms across the country.
In 1997, SEI entered into a contractual arrangement with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's (APL) NEAR-Shoemaker Mission as a commercial EPO partner. The resulting NEARlink® program allowed students to research a near-Earth asteroid. NEARlink was moderately successful, hindered in part by the unexpected one-year delay caused by the missed rendezvous with Eros in December 1998.
In conjunction with the Planetary Society, SEI developed the Marslink® program in 1999, based on NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Global Surveyor Mission. Again, a small grant from Mr. Hubbard, now Carl Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute, encouraged SEI to expand the program. Today Marslink® involves NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission and is widely used in classrooms across the country.
George French was appointed to the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) in 1996. In 1999, SEI hired Dr. R. Aileen Yingst as Chief Scientist. Dr. Yingst is a Planetary Geologist who served on the Mars Polar Lander team and the Pathfinder Camera team for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When NASA put the WSGC lead university position up for competitive bid, SEI teamed with the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay (UWGB). NASA selected the SEI/UWGB proposal, and Dr. Yingst became Director of the Consortium.
In 2002, NASA held an open competition for 20 states to upgrade to Designated status. Under the direction of Dr. Yingst, the WSGC proposal was successful, and Wisconsin was one of three states selected. The upgraded WSGC status requires more of her time, but Dr. Yingst serves as a consultant and Chief Scientist at SEI. She also teaches Geology and Remote Sensing at UWGB. Dr. Yingst was selected by NASA to join the science team working with the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the education and public outreach effort for the Mars Phoenix mission, and has been chosen to participate in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, slated for arrival on Mars in 2011. Its equipment arsenal will include a Mars HandLens Imager, or MAHLI, for which Dr. Yingst will be a co-investigator.
In 1997, SEI hired Sandra Bast as Director of At-Risk Education. Ms. Bast worked within Illinois and the Chicago Public School System and in the summer of 1999 completed the first program-wide academic evaluation of curriculum in sixth through eighth grade classrooms in Chicago. The results were stunning. Students who previously failed succeeded at a rate of 89% when Moonlink® was added to the curriculum mix. Today the Chicago Public School District is SEI's largest single district customer. Subsequently, Ms. Bast's minority-owned business, Bast Services, was awarded a three-year NASA summer education program in Chicago in 2002. Today, students involved in their National Aerospace Initiative (administered through Worldview Education, Inc.) have the opportunity to earn a scholarship to travel to Space Camp at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
As part of the Chicago Public Schools work, SEI and the Einstein Project developed the K-3 Space® program. K-3 Space addresses science standards at the lower grade levels, ensuring students are taught properly at this absorbent young age. Students learn about such topics as orbits, reflection of light, phases of the moon, and distances between the Sun, Moon, and planets.
To connect students to commercial science and educational payloads on the International Space Station (ISS), SEI developed the Orbital Laboratory® program in 1999. In order to utilize and enhance the space industry in Wisconsin, SEI worked with the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR). WCSAR is a NASA center of excellence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, headed by Dr. Weijia Zhou. Working with Dr. Zhou, Dr. Bratislav Stankovic, and others at WCSAR, SEI was established as a commercial partner and purchased its first commercial payload, Payload 001: Plant Growth. In this experiment, Arabidopsis seeds were grown for a full seed-to-seed life cycle on ISS using Advanced Astroculture hardware (ADVASC) from WCSAR. The data gathered from the first flight showed possible effects of microgravity on the life cycle and development of Arabidopsis. Through the Orbital Laboratory program, approximately 600 schools, mainly in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, participated in the first plant growth experiment.
SEI's second payload, Payload 002: Plant Genetics, was activated February 13, 2002, on ISS, this time carrying not only fresh Arabidopsis seeds from Earth, but also seeds harvested from Payload 001. This experiment, also using ADVASC hardware, allowed for a second full seed-to-seed growth of Arabidopsis. At two key points during the plant's life cycle, samples were harvested and stored in Kennedy Fixation Tubes (KFTs) for return to Earth for genomic analysis.
Payload 003: Cultivating Our Future has been SEI's most exciting payload to date. SEI worked with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., WCSAR, and Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC), a Madison, Wisconsin-based NASA subcontractor for flight hardware and operations, to create a classroom plant growth experiment examining dwarf wheat and soybean crops as potential food for long-term space travel. It allows students to analyze growth media, nutrients, and light exposure times while studying the same research astronauts conducted for NASA aboard the ISS.
In 2002, SEI began compiling information to create the Space Library®. The Space Library® is comprised of engaging articles that aid students to applying research and developing critical thinking skills. Students begin exploring the Space Library by selecting what interests them most. Space Library has detailed information about the planets, the Sun, the Moon, comets, rockets & X-planes, deep space, asteroids, and live missions. For each planet in our solar system, students will find planetary data, images, information about past, current, and future missions, and much more. Teachers can direct students to the Space Library as they seek answers to questions and conduct further investigations.
SEI used data from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, and Pathfinder missions to create the Mars Explorer simulation in 2003. This exciting program provides a virtual Mars terrain for students to explore using their own Mars rover. While driving their rovers on the Martian surface, students explore the possibilities of sustaining life on the Red Planet. They complete surface activities such as taking panoramic multispectral images, monitoring the weather, and taking measurements of rocks and soil samples using a variety of instruments.
In 2006, Space Explorers added inquiry-based Interactive Applets to the program. Space Explorers applets are an exceptional tool to not only illustrate complex concepts, but also allow students to make and test predictions. The inquiry-based applets complement the lesson plans and simulations while allowing students to learn at their own pace. These are ideal for visual and hands-on learners.
Inspired by Rocketplane Global and the X Prize, Space Explorers Spaceflight Simulation was released in 2007 to showcase the excitement of future private spaceflight opportunities, currently under development by industry leaders. This experience provides students the opportunity to work together in a simulated mission of sending a rocket plane into suborbital flight. As part of the flight, the rocket plane travels to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, reaching an altitude of 60 miles before landing back at the spaceport.
In addition to educational programming developed by teachers for teachers, Space Explorers provides professional development workshops tailored to meet educators’ needs. Workshops have been conducted throughout the country, providing personalized training designed to promote integrating technology and practical applications for educators. Space Explorers regularly collaborates with agencies with similar synergies to deliver dynamic hands-on training and professional development opportunities.
In 2008, Space Explorers unveiled Universal Access, subscription-based programming, which includes Lunar Expedition, Mission: Mars, Asteroid Encounter, Suborbital Sojourn, Orbital Laboratory®, and K-3 Space®. The collection of simulations and curricula allows teachers to obtain information about our solar system and choose between a variety of simulations experiences. Power Point presentations and online video training have also been incorporated into the standards-based programming, providing additional resources to educators and students. SEI continues to improve and upgrade the portfolio of programming, providing further value for both students and teachers.
As the number of SEI education programs continues to grow, SEI will continue to provide school districts and states greater value and selection for their teachers. The SEI team keeps this dream alive by connecting teachers and students to the excitement of space exploration through innovative educational curriculum.
Involvement in SEI's programming will continue to allow students to benefit from the knowledge and wonder gained in the space exploration program. SEI will provide exceptional customer support, develop innovative educational programs and activities, optimize our opportunities through creative approaches and relationships, and continue to build on our existing foundations.
The future of space is exciting, offering limitless possibilities for our youth. SEI continues to explore promising avenues to excite young minds and prepare the students of today to face the challenging, ever-changing needs of the human race.