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Ninth Grade Academy students recently joined in festivities helping NASA’s Payload Operations Integration Center (POIC) celebrate 12 years of science support for the International Space Station.
The students – among select schools from Tennessee and Alabama – virtually “stepped inside” the science command post for the International Space Station located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville from their own classrooms through an hour-long webcast via NASA’s Digital Learning Network.
With its theme “Celebrating 12 Years of Science from the ISS,” the webcast was loaded with reviews of science research such as the “Spiders in Space” experiment where the crew observes arachnid habits in a microgravity environment, helping scientists more clearly understand how organisms are affected in orbit.
NASA astronaut TJ Creamer, Marshall’s first astronaut to become a payload operations director, talked to the students about his career that eventually led him to the center, where he leads a team of flight contractors that coordinate all research activities aboard the orbiting laboratory.
“With five-and-a-half months or so on the station, you are able to come away with a good impression of what the station environment is like and how the operations work from day to day,” said Creamer, who was an Expedition 22/23 crew member from December 2009 to June 2010. “And as a result of that impression – that mental awareness – now we’re in the era of utilization when we are completing even more research. So we’re here managing payloads and science experiments 24/7, 365 days a year, and I thought it was a great marriage. After the handful of months on station, you can come away with a very healthy operational awareness. You come away with a crew sensitivity. Now, the marriage I spoke of is trying to integrate all of those components for the payload developers and investigators to make science and utilization successful.”
POIC team members also talked with the students about their job responsibilities – working with researchers from around the world and crews aboard the space station to perform the more than 1,500 investigations since 2001.
Students from select schools, including New Hope Elementary, Causey Middle School in Mobile, and West Middle School in Sioux City, Iowa, in addition to NGA here, asked questions and conversed with the POIC team members to gain an understanding of what goes on behind the control center’s doors.
“Our main goal in hosting this webcast event is to capture students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM,” said Sam Digesu, manager of the Payload Operations Directors Office at Marshall. “We rely on our future generation to carry out NASA’s missions, and we are very happy to share with them all the fascinating work that goes on in our control center and on station. And there’s a lot!
“Special thanks to the POIC team who planned this successful opportunity,” he added. “They are passionate about their duties, and it was obvious. I’m sure that many parents listened to their excited children talk about the cool things going on 200-plus miles above us.”
The educational event was just example of outreach by the POIC team, which takes any opportunity to visit schools to spread the word about the work done in Huntsville.