Lebanon teacher attends NASA LiftOff Institute

Staff Reports • Updated Aug 4, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Castle Heights Elementary School teacher Jamie Ricketts joined educators from across the nation for the LiftOff Summer Institute at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston during the last week of June.  

The program, sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium, selected teachers from across the U.S. to increase their knowledge of space education through the professional development summer institute. The Tennessee Space Grant Consortium partnered with NASA’s TSGC to send a Tennessee teacher to the institute.

LiftOff is a collaborative effort of Texas Space Grant Consortium members and affiliates, NASA and industry. Teachers apply for LiftOff and are selected competitively. The workshops are organized around an aerospace or space-science theme drawn from NASA’s diverse engineering and scientific research programs. The theme for LiftOff 2017 was starry night. The primary focus was on objects in the night sky, including planets, stars, the moon and the sun.  

Opening the weeklong institute was a presentation by Jerry Woodfill, an engineer at NASA Johnson Space Flight Center, who shared 13 things that saved Apollo XIII. He was the first alert warning system engineer on Apollo XIII. Four astronauts spoke to the educators during the week. Apollo XIII astronaut Fred Haise shared his momentous experience, former astronaut Clay Anderson shared his message of “teach them to dream,” and each teacher received his book, “The Ordinary Spaceman,” former astronaut Jerry Ross shared his experiences as a seven-time space walker while giving each teacher his book, “Spacewalker” and accompanying DVD, and former astronaut Mike Foreman shared stories from his space flight experience.  

With the United States about to experience a total solar eclipse Aug. 21, teachers conducted eclipse activities, modeled phases of the moon with Jody Hodges and participated in Discovery dome activities with Patricia Reiff from Rice University. 

Ricketts said a highlight was seeing the James Webb telescope in the chamber preparing for testing. Teachers increased their knowledge of working and living in space while visiting scientists and engineers in the Astromaterials Lab, where they viewed the Apollo moon rocks, Genesis Lab, Stardust Lab and CT chamber, food lab, neutral buoyancy lab and robotics lab.  Norm Chaffee walked the teachers through each stage of the Saturn V rocket while Tim Hall, deputy chief of extravehicular activities at Johnson, shared NASA’s vision of what the future holds.

Certification to check out lunar and meteorite samples and sharing proven lessons for the classroom were highlights, according to Ricketts.

Ricketts returned to Lebanon Special School District ready to train other educators and use new resources received in the classroom. The LiftOff workshops proved teachers and their students are excited about space science and exploration, Ricketts said. The resources will be used to enrich STEM education for students nationwide.  

The workshops also provided teachers the rare – and for most, unique – opportunity to spend a week working with professional scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of space exploration.

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