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Pa. teacher takes giant step in space education project

January 14, 2007|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, PA. - When Heather Slatoff received an invitation to join Buzz Aldrin, Anousheh Ansari, Frank White and others on the Teachers in Space (TIS) advisory board, the Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School teacher asked one question: "Why me?"

But there was no question in the mind of TIS project team leader Bill Boland.

"Heather is clear-thinking, energetic, vibrant, and so obviously committed to teaching," Boland said. "After meeting her, I said, 'That's the teacher, that's why we're in this.'"

Boland said the eight-member board needed the perspective of a teacher "on the ground" to help guide the project.

Teachers in Space is a project of the Space Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit education foundation dedicated to advancing NewSpace or private space exploration.

Using many ideas from the Ronald Reagan-era Teachers in Space program by NASA, Boland said that the project hopes to send about 500 teachers into space starting in 2010.

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Taking teachers into space is only one way for the project to accomplish its goal of educating and getting students excited about space, Boland said.

Slatoff said the trip to space is a tool for creating curriculum and buzz about NewSpace among American youth.

"To go to space is one thing, to come back and share the experience is what matters," Slatoff said.

Before any teachers can take the suborbital trip, Boland said TIS needs funding. The project is drafting national legislation for Congress to fund one teacher from each congressional district to take a flight into space.

Boland anticipates Congress to have reservations, but hopes TIS sister project FirstFive will encourage Congress. He said privately funded FirstFive is set to send five teachers on a series of adventures, including space flight training, near space flights, a rocket race and space flight as early as 2009.

As the TIS project moves forward, Boland said Slatoff will play a significant role in drafting the legislation, creating a community of teachers and writing unique curriculum that is classroom-friendly.

"There is a blizzard of curriculum out there for teachers," Boland said. "Why would we want to be another snowflake in a blizzard?"

Unlike some of the advisory board members, Slatoff will do most of her work with TIS from Greencastle.

"I can't just pick up and go somewhere," she said.

Sitting on a pint-sized chair in her classroom, Slatoff spoke excitedly about her role in the project and the possibilities it could create for her students.

"The idea that kids today could grow up and take a cruise not to the Caribbean, but to space is amazing," she said.

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