On its website, the Atlanta International School in Buckhead has a slogan: it’s training “leaders who shape the global future.”

The experiential AIS Space Program, a pilot program that began this fall, has gone beyond Earth to shape leaders for something completely out of this world: outer-space knowledge, discovery and exploration.

April 17, a group of middle- and upper-school students involved in the school’s science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) program witnessed something few other students can claim.

They had one of their STEAM science experiments, which needed a special outer-space environment to create results, placed on a module and loaded onto a rocket. It was launched aboard Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, into outer space to rendezvous with the International Space Station as it circled the Earth. April 23, the rocket rendezvoused with the station.

The students, known as the Eaglenauts, are exploring the pathfinding behavior of Physarum polycephalum, a slime mold, on the Earth and in microgravity. The experiment will return to Earth May 17. The students, along with U.S. senators and current and former astronauts, watched the launch from Northrop Grumman’s office on Wallops Island.

According to Marsha Maxwell, the school’s head of technology and innovation, this STEAM-related research is part of a pilot program at the school which she and some former colleagues, two of which were former NASA employees, John Hines and Donald James, contacted her last spring. They wanted to develop a program to introduce young students to the scientific mysteries of outer space through research and experimentation.

“Since I have a history in working with space-related programs and projects, these former colleagues contacted me to see if they and I could do something together to develop such an outer-space-related program for young students. We came up with three-year program here at AIS, which included use of the International Space Station for our experiments,” Maxwell said.

One of the program's students, Carolyn Lee, 15, the daughter of Theresa Ho and Colin Lee, said she was anxious to join it.

“It goes past the normal things we learn in class and allows us to actually utilize all the skills we learn in the classroom,” she said.

“Another reason I like this STEAM class is that I love to do experiments, and this program will help me see what I want to do. I would like to go into any outer space-related field, such as space engineering.”

Of the trip to Virginia, Lee said, “It was a very, very exciting. I am enjoying being a part of this program and the STEAM classes we have at school.”

The students worked with local mentors and an MIT Media Lab scientist to navigate through the various milestones on their way to launch.

When the module is returned to Earth, Maxwell said, the students will study the results of the experiment in order to produce an algorithm for it.

Then they will have the chance to discuss their experiments at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Atlanta July 29 through Aug. 1 and at the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research’s annual meeting Nov. 20 through 23 in Denver.


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