Why Space Science in Middle School?
We know not every ARES Learning cadet will be an astronaut, space scientist, or engineer... but this learning experience is for everyone. Space science affects more industries every year, and the same skill sets (and mindsets) needed by space explorers also support success in any field here on Earth.
The Space Foundation in CO has some very exciting programs for students, including a Junior Space Entrepreneur Program. They also released this e-book that explains how space science impacts many more industries today, and how "limitations of the current educational system" are the biggest obstacles to realizing this potential.
Space – once considered the final frontier and only accessible to a select few – is now home to the most dynamic and innovative economy on the planet. Today every community , infrastructure, and aspect of modern life is either acutely dependent on or indirectly affected by space-related technologies. These innovations span health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, industrial productivity, information technology, energy and environment, and more, impacting societies and regions across the globe.
The industry needs and economic benefits to studying space science are certainly compelling, but more importantly… the skills and mindsets needed by space explorers are the same needed by innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in all social enterprises here on Earth. NASA Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who is a candidate to become the first woman to set foot on the moon through the Artemis Program, says that astronauts have to have what NASA calls “expeditionary skills.”
"Very similar to the space station generation, we're looking for people that are adaptable, that are able to work well in a team," Wilson said. She added that astronauts have to be able to transition well between being leaders and followers and additionally "make good decisions quickly and efficiently in an emergency situation or in a situation where resources are limited."
There is no reason children can’t begin developing these kinds of expeditionary skills in middle school, through real-world projects that focus on their passions. As young aspiring astronaut Alyssa Carson says, “if a kid has an interest in a career, they can begin studying it and how to pursue it” ...and both middle school and the larger pandemic context are what she would call “a time of change, a time to explore, a time to evolve.”
Ultimately, today’s twelve year olds need to be prepared for an uncertain future. Sir Richard Branson, who is now accepting deposits for space tourism flights on Virgin Galactic, points out that this would’ve been inconceivable a century ago, and that “there are things that are gonna happen (that nobody's even conceived of yet) by the turn of the century that would shatter our perceptions if we knew about them."
To put this into perspective, consider the premise of Rachel Mann and Stephen Sandford’s book, The Martians in Your Classroom:
“The first person to step foot on the red planet has already been born and could be a student in a classroom, a kid in your neighborhood, or a child in your own home. We are preparing the next generation for jobs that do not exist and for career paths that may not be in our communities, our countries, or even on our planet.”
This is why cadets at ARES prepare for the careers of their dreams... while they learn the skills and mindsets needed to face an uncertain future and solve challenging problems in any community - on this planet or any other.