The recent search for NASA's next astronaut saw 12,000 entries from people across the globe all desperate for the opportunity to make it onboard science's most remote laboratory. Now, NASA is offering young aspiring astronauts the chance to start training from home with a range of challenging online programs to keep them busy under lockdown, covering everything from rocket launches to building a hovercraft.
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are tasked with carrying out a vast array of experiments, including those on agricultural practices, animal behavior, and even cures for illnesses. The new online learning resource from NASA and ISS National Labs explores science subjects spanning human health to robotics, math and physics, with suitable challenges broken down by age range.
Until April 22, students even have the chance to shape a mission onboard SpaceX’s October cargo resupply mission as part of The Leguminaut Challenge. The aim is to provide onboard astronauts with a spacefaring legume. Students can have their say whether alfalfa, mungbean, or lentil will be grown and tested onboard the ISS. As well as influencing future space missions, students can try their hand at missions previously undertaken on the ISS to see how their results compare to the real event.
There are also citizen science projects asking for help from terrestrial aficionados to contribute to research on the ISS. Existing examples include helping to locate penguin populations using satellite data, studying image libraries for signs of new brown dwarfs and planets, and even aiding AI that could be used on future Mars missions. (For more advanced scientists, there are citizen science projects asking for your help designing an antiviral protein to tackle COVID-19)
The team behind the education tool hope to inspire the next generation of astronauts and provide some distraction as much of the world remains under lockdown. Dan Barstow, education manager for the ISS National Lab, said in a blog post about the series: “I think the educational activities from ISS National Lab partners convey a subtle but deep message – astronauts see the world from space and want to share its beauty and its wholeness, they read books from the cupola to connect from the lonely outpost and reach young people, they do medical experiments to search for cures, and they help young people see the power of the mysterious universe to pull us to explore.”
“Maybe through this work, in this dark time, we can do our contribution to help young people feel hope, and we wish health and safety to you and your loved ones.”