Beth Luce, Manager of Communication Services, University of Washington Tacoma
TACOMA, WASH. — When the 26-year-old space shuttle Discovery makes it final lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday afternoon — weather permitting — 20 students from UW Tacoma’s Math, Science, Leadership (MSL) program will make their mark on that historic voyage. The students’ signatures, along with those of several faculty, staff and family members, will go along for the ride.
The MSL program provides year-round activities for enrolled 7th to 12th grade students to encourage and inspire them to develop knowledge in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and leadership, and to pursue college degrees in these fields. Donors who make the program possible include Intel Foundation, Discuren Foundation, the Florence B. Kilworth Charitable Foundation, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp Foundation.
The journey from UW Tacoma to Discovery’s last flight started last spring.
On May 8, as part of international Space Day, MSL students worked on three activities, according to MSL Coordinator Adrienne Ione.
Linda Dawson, UW Tacoma senior lecturer, an engineer and formerly an aeronautical flight controller on the Space Shuttle Program at NASA in Houston, led the students in an experiment to determine the weight of various-sized balls dropped into a mixture of flour and colored sugar by measuring the size of the crater left in the flour.
Via an Internet conference, an aerospace engineer from the University of Michigan led the students in a bottle rocket design challenge.
In the third activity, students brainstormed technological devices that could be used to view Earth from a distance and how those inventions might lead to further discoveries.
As part of their Space Day activities, MSL students and others signed a giant poster provided by Lockheed Martin and NASA as part of the Student Signatures in Space program. The signatures of students from approximately 500 schools and youth organizations are digitized from the posters and entered in the manifest of a space shuttle mission. Groups can only take part in the program once in six years. Since the program began in 1997, thousands of schools and 5.6 million signatures have flown on various missions.
But UW Tacoma’s MSL students’ signatures will ride on a historic flight, Discovery’s 39th and last trip into space.
“Originally, the signatures were scheduled to travel on a different mission, but due to complications, the flight was postponed,” Ione said. “Then I received word that the poster would travel on the Discovery at a later time on a mission to the International Space Station to drop off supplies. I thought, ‘WOW! Even cooler!”
Discovery’s last flight was intended to lift off today, but bad weather postponed the launch until Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 6:52 p.m., PDT. A crew of six astronauts, the first humanoid robot in space and six mice will accompany the students’ signatures.
Students are following the flight on its mission, Ione said. “I’m excited to track the flight and have encouraged students and family members to do the same. One student e-mailed me, ‘This is so awesome. This is something that we can do as a family.’ ”
Learn more and track Discovery’s mission at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle.