Area Students to Talk with NASA Astronauts on International Space Station, Including Local Resident Cady Coleman

Downlink Scheduled at Springfield Technical Community College on Tuesday, March 29

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Several area school children will have an opportunity to talk directly with crew of the International Space Station, including astronaut Cady Coleman, who is a Western Massachusetts resident and UMass Amherst alumna, on Tuesday, March 29.

School children throughout Massachusetts will be able to view this conversation, which is made possible through NASA to a partnership of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Springfield Technical Community College, in collaboration with local school districts.

Twenty sixth-grade students from Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee will communicate with the astronauts through a 20-minute in-flight educational downlink hosted at STCC. An additional 40 sixth graders will gather at STCC to watch the event, as their classmates ask questions about life and work on the space station. As the astronauts and children talk, the space station will be travelling at 17,500 miles per hour in low earth orbit. The actual downlink time will be specified by NASA the week prior to the event.

Marla Michel, executive director for economic development strategies at UMass Amherst and director of the Scibelli Enterprise Center at STCC, explained that UMass and STCC were selected for this opportunity in part through the local connection: astronaut Cady Coleman, a graduate of the UMass Amherst doctoral program in polymer science, had contacted the university.

According to Dr. Robert Dickerman, dean of the School of Math, Sciences and Engineering Transfer at STCC, who is leading the project, teachers throughout Massachusetts are encouraged to participate by downloading the activities that the Springfield and Holyoke teachers developed and by watching the downlink live on the internet that morning.

The Q&A session will be broadcast live on NASA TV and streamed on the NASA website at The downlink is facilitated by Teaching From Space, a NASA Education office; activities are designed to encourage K-12 students to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Local schools that will be sending students to the downlink event at STCC are the STEM Middle Academy in Springfield; the Lt. Elmer J. McMahon Elementary School and the Dr. Marcella R. Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke. Chicopee schools will also be represented.

Downlink-related activities in the weeks leading up to March 29 are being initiated by the directors of science programming for the three primary school districts: Helen Gibson in Holyoke, Ron St. Amand in Springfield, and Sharon St. Pierre in Chicopee. A curriculum guide is available on the STCC website

The public school teachers involved in the downlink and related education activities have had extensive involvement with NASA. Also, Jan Kibbe, who is a Magnet Resource Teacher at the STEM Middle Academy, has attended trainings and internships at Kennedy, Marshall, Ames, and Johnson Space Centers, and is currently involved in professional development to participate in the NASA Explorer Schools program.

NASA Educational Specialist Richard Varner will serve as moderator for the event at STCC. International Space Station crew members participating in the Q&A session will be NASA Flight Engineer Catherine (Cady) Coleman, and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli.

STCC and UMass Amherst, with the assistance of the participating schools have devised an educational plan for the downlink day, providing STEM activities for the students who are coming to STCC for the morning. "It’s a STEM mini-fair," said Dickerman. "We will be presenting various activities here for the school children, with assistance from UMass, including faculty and students from the UMass School of Education as well as from the UMass College of Engineering and computer science department."

Michel added, "Getting the Commonwealth’s young students excited about STEM is important, because we want them to go to college and make our country all that it can be. What could be more exciting than watching the International Space Station, live?"

Dickerman noted, "The NASA downlink and associated activities are related to Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan for excellence in STEM education and the associated advisory council chaired by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. Also, all the educational institutions involved in the downlink events are members of PV-STEMNET, a group that works to increase the number of STEM students and teachers."