Nasa helps US community colleges explore space

Community colleges play an important, though under-appreciated, role in American education. Now a Nasa program will bring space and space technology into these schools’ science and technology programs. The space agency, through its Space Grant program, will give 35 states 2-year grants totaling over $17 million to increase the number of students entering and completing science and technical degrees.

Nasa’s Space Grant program channels resources that to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to foster undergraduate and pre-college science and engineering education. Space Grant Consortia in each state sponsor undergraduate research projects, primary and secondary school education programs, and public outreach activities aligned with Nasa’s science and technology goals.

Students in the 2014 RockOn! Workshop, a Space Grant program, watches their research fly into space.New Mexico Space Grant Consortium's 2013 Student Launch Program launch event. Credit: Nasa

Students in the 2014 RockOn! Workshop, a Space Grant program, watches their research fly into space.New Mexico Space Grant Consortium's 2013 Student Launch Program launch event. Credit: Nasa

The RockOn! Workshop run by Colorado’s Space Grant program, for example, brings undergraduates to Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility to develop experiments that the space agency launches on suborbital rockets.

Nasa awarded the 2014 Space Grant Community Colleges and Technical Schools grants in mid-August. While a few states’ proposals avoid making any specific commitments, the vast majority target clear, measurable objectives with specific actions. You can read the Nasa PDF with all 35 abstracts, but here are the highlights:

High altitude balloon projects feature prominently in many of the states’ proposals. Arizona, for example, will adapt its undergraduate-focused Ascend high-altitude balloon program to the community college level. Louisiana will give students a chance to fly balloon projects from Nasa’s Columbia Scientific Ballooning Facility just across the border in Palestine, Texas. The proposal from Wisconsin will make their ballooning program self-sustaining so it can continue after the Nasa grant ends.

New Mexico Space Grant Consortium's 2013 Student Launch Program launch event.

Several Space Grant Consortia leverage adapt existing undergraduate programs to the community college level. Hawaii will create a suborbital research program modeled after the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory. Scholarships will give 96 students experience in the design, test, launch and operation of small space research projects. New Mexico will fund scholarships to add 45 students to its suborbital research program based out of Spaceport America. 

Nasa isn’t just about space - aeronautics is the first “A” in Nasa. Scholarships will let Vermont double the size of its Aviation Technology Program a 2-year aircraft maintenance training program that places 100% of its graduates. South Dakota’s students will use drones to collect airborne imagery to calibrate satellite images and evaluate agricultural areas.