As we’ve said previously, we’re big fans of science fairs. Science fairs provide a rare opportunity for high-school students have to engage in true scientific research where the answer is a genuine unknown. The also provides an opportunity for top-level students to push the limits of academic achievement, going far beyond what classroom curriculum normally allows in this era of “No Child Left Behind” and “Teaching to the Test.” Science fairs have led universities to set up special programs where top-level competitors can gain access to university research labs, and tech companies are taking science fairs in new directions like the Google online science fair.

Currently, however, there is no world-class science-fair competition focused that’s specifically on space. That is rather surprising, given the historical connection between the space program and science education, dating back to the Sputnik era. We’d like to change that.

We’re proposing the Explore Space! competition – a world-class science fair for space.

Our proposal, currently being evaluated by the NASA Office of Education under its educational partnership program, calls for two levels of competition.

The Explore Space! competition would begin, each year, with a series of regional science fairs. Most of the regional fairs would take place at NASA centers, although some might be held at other venues if there’s no NASA center in the region. (Seattle’s Museum of Flight in the Northwest, for example.)

Competitors would be judged by a panel of space scientists, engineers, and education specialists from both NASA and industry. The best experiments from the regional competitions would be selected to go to the national level.

At the national Explore Space! competition, every competitor would have the chance to fly his or her experiment, either on a NASA microgravity aircraft flight or a high-altitude balloon depending on the nature of the experiment.

The winning experiments from the national competition would fly in space on a Citizens in Space mission. Initially, this would be one of our ten XCOR flights. In the future, it might include other commercial space companies. If the national competition takes place in the Los Angeles, the winning students could visit Mojave Air and Space Port and observe the launch and landing of the flight carrying their experiments.

At every level, students would have the chance to interact with NASA astronauts and researchers, as well as Citizens in Space payload specialists and commercial pilot astronauts.

Citizens in Space is interested in working with other nonprofits and for-profit companies to make the Explore Space! competition a reality. Potential partners are invited to contact us for more details.

Written by Astro1 on May 12th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), Education

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