Published Online:
Published in Print: February 5, 1986, as National Broadcast of Lessons Planned

National Broadcast of Lessons Planned

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is preparing a nationwide television broadcast to schools next week as part of an effort to salvage its imperiled teacher-in-space project.

According to an official of the Public Broadcasting Service, the telecast was expected to receive official sanction at NASA headquarters in Washington this week. It will feature Barbara R. Morgan, the runner-up to Sharon Christa McAuliffe in the competition to be the first teacher in space, and perhaps several astronauts, the official said.

Ms. McAuliffe perished along with six others in the fiery explosion of the space shuttle Challenger last week.

PBS will beam the broadcast nationwide, with possible corporate underwriting by the International Business Machines Corporation.

The program will be televised during school hours, and will be designed for use in classrooms, where many students witnessed via television the explosion of the shuttle.

The broadcast will probably include an educational component as well as attempts to explain to students what happened to the shuttle and its passengers.

“We intend to support educators and students,” said Mary H. Lewis, the deputy manager of the teacher-in-space project. “My understanding is that we will encourage students to use the guidebooks [developed by NASA for use in schools in conjunction with the Challenger flight] and we will encourage teachers to talk to students about the loss of Christa and the shuttle.”

NASA officials had met Thursday afternoon in Washington in what one called a “strategy session” to plan how the agency would respond to last week’s shuttle disaster.

On Friday morning, a NASA spokesman said that no decisions had been reached about how the agency would proceed.

But later that day, John D. Cecil, the director of PBS’s elementary- and secondary-education programming, said that NASA had already begun working on a program with public station KUHT in Houston, which had been scheduled to broadcast Ms. McAuliffe’s live lessons from space.

“They will definitely do something,” Mr. Cecil said.

PBS officials had been trying to get a nationwide program on the air to help students deal with the trauma of the space shuttle as early as Tuesday of this week.

“We’re not going to wait for NASA,” Mr. Cecil had said earlier.

But PBS’s efforts were frustrated by the space agency, which had “put a lid” on its astronauts, refusing to allow any of them to appear on television, Mr. Cecil said.

According to Mr. Cecil, at least three major PBS affiliates--WNET in New York, KTCA in Minneapolis, and KUHT in Houston--had already begun to produce local programs last week in response to the disaster.

He said it was not clear late last week whether any of those programs would be broadcast independently of the NASA telecast.

Mr. Cecil said each of the programs the affiliates were putting together would help students “process their thoughts and their feelings” about the explosion of the shuttle and the death of its crew members.

He indicated that PBS might attempt to link the Minneapolis program with the NASA broadcast from Houston, because it apparently will include students in a studio audience, giving them an opportunity to ask questions to a panel of experts.

Vow to ‘Follow Through’

Despite the growing concern last week over the continued participation of civilians in the nation’s space program, officials of NASA’s education division vowed to “follow through” on the educational aspects of the teacher-in-space project.

The agency spent more than $1 million on educational programs developed for use during the mission that was to begin with last week’s launch, including the preparation and distribution of a 16-page “Teacher in Space Project” guidebook.

More than a million copies of the guidebook were distributed to schools across the nation, as part of an effort to spark students’ interest in science and in the space program.

During her flight, Ms. McAuliffe was prepared to conduct two lessons that would have been beamed live to classrooms across the country. The first, “The Ultimate Field Trip,” explained life aboard the shuttle. The second, “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why?” examined the benefits of manufacturing in space and the technological spin-offs of the space program.

The guidebook provided a brief summary of these activities, but also included several detailed, “concept-based” lessons for students, designed to stimulate their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Ms. Lewis said.

Ms. McAuliffe was also to have conducted a series of experiments involving seven different scientific principles. On earth, Ms. Morgan would have conducted the same experiments, which would have been transmitted to schools.

Ms. McAuliffe’s lessons would have been videotaped and made available to schools after the flight.

‘Not Merely an Event’

Despite its failure--perhaps in part because of it--last week’s launch appears to have captured the attention of the public as few events in recent history have. And NASA officials view the renewed interest as an opportunity to salvage something of value from the catastrophe.

“I intend to make sure that this is not merely an event, but a program that will continue,” said Robert W. Brown, the director of NASA’s education-affairs division.

“Obviously, given the nature of the situation, we have to regroup and review the plans we had on the drawing board. There has to be some interruption with all due respect to those men and women who gave their lives,” he said.

By sending a teacher into space, “we just wanted to catch people’s attention,” said Doris K. Grigsby of NASA’s education-affairs division. “In that, we’ve been successful.”

“I feel confident that in some way we’re going to make use of the educational momentum we have going,” added Bob Mayfield, an adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University who developed the materials Ms. McAuliffe was to have used as part of her in-flight experiments. “I imagine every effort will be made to make a positive thing out of this.”

But first, he said, “We’ve got to take care of the human needs.”

Television was only one of several yet-to-be-determined fronts on which NASA officials were planning to move last week to help turn last week’s experience into something more positive for students.

Central to those activities, it appears, will be the semifinalists for the teacher-in-space flight, the so-called “space ambassadors.”

According to NASA officials, Ms. McAuliffe’s flight would have provided the most visible and direct link between NASA and the schools, but not the first.

“NASA has had an educational-programs office for years,” Ms. Lewis said. Among the educational activities the space agency sponsors are:

● An aerospace educational-services project, which employs some 28 teachers who travel throughout the United States helping colleagues and students understand aerospace science.

● A student shuttle-involvement program, which features a competition among students to have experiments performed in space;

● Two apprentice research programs, which enable bright minority high-school students and other gifted students to work with NASA scientists and engineers during the summer;

● Operation Liftoff, a new program to develop materials for elementary-school students that will encourage them to learn about science and mathematics;

● The SEEDS project, which involves some four million students in growing and comparing seeds in space.

Vol. 5, Issue 21, Pages 1,13

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories