Astronaut Chats with Young Students from Space

Achievement date: 

A live video visit from the International Space Station by astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman highlighted a day of discovery for sixth graders hosted by the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass).


The day-long event was designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. It was part of CASA’s approach to building a strong and diverse pipeline for STEM education. By reaching out to young students in their preteen years, especially girls, they can be instilled with the importance of engineering and its potential value to society from an early age.


The NASA downlink by USAF Colonel Catherine Coleman, who received a doctorate in polymer science and engineering from UMass in 1991, was the most anticipated event of the day. Sixty 6th-grade students from Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee gathered at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) in Western Massachusetts, where 20 of them were able to converse with the astronaut for nearly half an hour. Students throughout Massachusetts were able to access a live feed of the entire conversation.

Other activities included time-lapse photos showing atmospheric activity and a presentation on how the relationship between sound and pressure can be used to detect tornadoes. Students also raced solar-powered slot cars and learned about the relationship between wavelength and energy by experimenting with which color of light would make the cars move fastest. Finally, in order demonstrate the power of air, students used air drums to blow hats of each other’s heads.