Space talk

UND, ND Space Grant hosts video chat between girls’ STEM camp and NASA astronaut in space

Middle-schoolers from the Grand Forks recently came to UND to receive a call … from space!

The North Dakota Space Grant Consortium hosted a live downlink with NASA astronaut Christian Koch, currently aboard the International Space Station, on Aug. 19.

Koch answered questions written by young girls across the country, including those from Grand Forks. It’s the culmination of a partnership with SciGirls, an Emmy Award-winning PBS program. The SciGirls in Space project involves youth outreach programming and professional development for educators that engages girls aged 8-13 in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career paths.

During the Spring 2019 semester, NDSGC Deputy Director Caitlin Nolby and Coordinator Marissa Saad hosted an after-school space camp on campus for 20 local middle school girls. They were assisted by volunteer Shri Patel, a Grand Forks high school student.

“They participated in hands-on activities, toured the UND Aerospace facilities and heard from female STEM role models,” Saad said. “During the call, the girls, their families and the public can watch a live stream of her responding to their questions.”

STEM education promotes critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving, Saad says. UND Aerospace provided unique opportunities to the young students: flying spacecraft simulators; creating solutions to engineering design challenges; and talking with female graduate students and administrators.

SciGirls and its outreach efforts stand as the most widely accessed girls’ STEM program nationally, with reach to 14 million students and educators. Episodes of the show’s most recent season focus on space science and the exploration of the moon and Mars, with production supported by NASA’s Moon to Mars initiative.

“Statistically, fewer girls are interested in science when they’re in high school,” Saad explained. “What’s funny is that girls and boys report an equal love of sciences when they’re in elementary school. With the SciGirls program, we’re trying to reignite interest at a time where it might not seem fun or cool.

“What’s cooler than hearing your own questions answered by Christina Koch while she’s on the International Space Station?”

Koch, selected as an astronaut in 2013, is currently part of three expeditions aboard the International Space Station. Her stay, scheduled until February 2020, is expected to set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman at 328 days.