Launched in June 2010, SSEP was designed as a model U.S. National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program that immerses typically 300 students across a community in every facet of authentic scientific research of their own design, using a highly captivating spaceflight opportunity on the International Space Station (ISS).
The program is designed to inspire and engage the next generation of scientists and engineers, and is accomplished by providing each participating community their own very real Space Program.
SSEP Mission 6 to ISS will provide each participating community a real research mini-laboratory capable of supporting a single microgravity experiment, and all launch services to fly the mini-lab to ISS in Fall 2014, and return it safely to Earth for harvesting and analysis. Mirroring how professional research is done, student teams across the community submit research proposals, and go through a formal proposal review process to select the flight experiment. The design competition–from program start, to experiment design, to submission of proposals by student teams–spans 9 weeks from February 24 to April 28, 2014. Content resources for teachers and students support foundational instruction on science in microgravity and experiment design. Additional SSEP program elements leverage the experience to engage the entire community, embracing a Learning Community Model for STEM education.
SSEP provides seamless integration across STEM disciplines through an authentic, high visibility research experience—an approach that embraces the Next Generation Science Standards. For school districts—even individual schools—SSEP provides an opportunity to implement a systemic, high caliber STEM education program tailored to community need. More broadly, SSEP is about a commitment to student ownership in exploration, to science as journey, and to the joys of learning.
SSEP is open to U.S. schools and school districts serving grade 5 through 12 students, 2- and 4-year colleges and universities, informal science education organizations, and internationally through the Center’s Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. SSEP is not designed for an individual class or a small number of students in a community.
Student teams are able to design experiments across diverse fields, including: seed germination, crystal growth, physiology and life cycles of microorganisms, cell biology and growth, food studies, and studies of micro-aquatic life. Experiments require design to the technology and engineering constraints imposed by the mini-laboratory, and flight operations to and from low Earth orbit.
“SSEP is designed to empower the student as scientist, and within the real-world context of science. Student teams design a real experiment, propose for a real flight opportunity, experience a formal proposal review, and go through a NASA flight safety review. They even have their own science conference at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where they are immersed in their own community of researchers”, said Dr. Jeff Goldstein, creator of SSEP and NCESSE Center Director. “SSEP is about introducing real science to our children and if you give them a chance to be scientists, stand back and be amazed.”
SSEP Mission 6 to ISS includes an experiment design competition February 24 through April 28, 2014. Flight experiments are selected by May 29, 2014, for a ferry flight to ISS in Fall 2014. All communities interested in participating in Mission 6 to ISS are directed to inquire no later than October 31, 2013.
Heritage: There have been seven SSEP flight opportunities to date—SSEP on STS-134 and STS-135, the final flights of Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis; and SSEP Missions 1 through 5 to ISS. Over the first six flight opportunities, 60 communities across the U.S. and Canada participated in the program, a total of 21,600 grade 5-14 students were fully immersed in microgravity experiment design and proposal writing, and 5,091 experiment proposals were submitted by student teams. 14 communities have participated in 2, 3, or 4 flight opportunities, reflecting the sustainable nature of the program.
Currently the 7 experiments of the Mission 3 to ISS Falcon 1 payload are aboard ISS, and were transported on the historic first flight of the Cygnus spacecraft, which launched on Orb-D1 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), Wallops Island, VA, on September 18, 2013. (Read about SSEP on Orb-D1.)