Robbi Gregory, with PR-B Community Education, said they applied to the program after one community education class met via Skype with a NASA employee.
"We were learning about physics and microgravity and all of this stuff," Gregory said. "It ended with NASA's digital learning network program where educators will talk to kids and it's like a Skype classroom. The kids were ridiculously excited about that even though it was just a guy behind a desk. The fact that someone from NASA wanted to talk to them was huge in their world. Some kids still talk about it and it's been five or six months."
One student asked if girls could work for NASA, and ever since being given a resounding yes, she has decided she wants to be an astrophysicist. The enabling power of that one answer inspired Gregory to look into an even bigger program and apply for the NASA In-flight Education Downlink program, which requires a comprehensive plan and evidence of a clear impact the program would make.
PR-B was selected from 65 educational organizations that submitted letters of intent to take part in this program, in part because of the life-changing impact the program could have on local students.
"It was astounding that these kids were learning about all of this stuff," Gregory said. "They are capable and a lot of them still don't realize they can be a part of it. I think our kids, being low income and rural, I think the impact was pretty phenomenal and compelling to them."
The downlink is still being scheduled. The exact time and date will not be known until Sept. 8, though the tentative plan is to hold the event during a 9-11:30 a.m. window.
"Their time is scheduled up to the five minutes," Gregory said. "Everything they do is scheduled. The fact that they give us 20 minutes is pretty awesome."
The program is no cost to PR-B. If the school elects to have a NASA exhibit at the event, then the school district would be expected to pay for shipping costs. This is still being decided.
Students will be asked to submit questions for the event, and 20 questions will be selected from those submitted. The students who submitted those questions will get the chance to ask them over Skype. The astronauts in question will be Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei.
"This is a really big deal for us," Gregory said. "It's a very big honor for our school to be chosen."
This year the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and St. John's University in Collegeville are scheduled for a downlink in January. Otherwise the Henning School District, the Boy Scouts of America Northern Star Council in St. Paul and Crossroads Elementary School in St. Paul are the only Minnesota groups to have hosted downlinks in the past.
Nationally more than 200 In-flight Education Downlinks have occurred, according to NASA representatives.
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