NASA Picks Three Teachers For Educator-Astronaut Roles

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Three teachers from Florida, Maryland, and Washington state are among a new crop of 11 astronaut candidates announced by NASA this month.

The teachers were chosen from about 1,200 applications from educators. The candidates, who form the space agency’s class of 2004, are the first to be named since the agency’s goals for human flights were reformulated by the Bush administration. Those goals now focus on returning astronauts to the moon and eventually traveling to Mars.

In statements provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the three teachers said what they hope to accomplish in their new roles as educator-astronauts. They will leave their teaching jobs this spring to work for NASA full time.

Joseph M. Acaba, 36, who teaches 7th and 8th grade science and mathematics at the 960-student Dunnellon Middle School in Dunnellon, Fla., said he hopes to reach out to minority students in his position with NASA. Mr. Acaba has also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Richard R. Arnold, 40, teaches math and science at the 460-student American International School of Bucharest, Romania, a pre-K-12 school. Mr. Arnold, who formerly taught in Morocco, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, wants his astronaut-in-training role to help him generate more interest in space sciences among students around the world.

Astronaut candidate Dorothy M. Metcalf-Lindenburger, 29, who teaches science and astronomy at the 1,500-student Hudson Bay High School in Vancouver, Wash., said "a lot of kids aren’t necessarily interested in science and math, but they do get excited about things like the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity," NASA’s two robotic vehicles that are conducting experiments on Mars.

"I want to continue to build more connections with the community," she said, "to get them jazzed about studying science."

The eight other members of the NASA class of 2004 include pilots, physicians, engineers, and scientists.

The candidates must report to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston by summer for initial preparation that will include training in survival, ground and flight operations of the T-38 jet, and shuttle-orbiter and space-station systems.

Flight Schedules Iffy

Shuttle flights have been suspended for safety reasons since the Columbia shuttle crash early last year. ("Shuttle Crash Fails to Deter NASA Interest," Feb. 12, 2003.)

According to NASA’s latest plan, the next shuttle flight will take place no earlier than March 2005. The shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2010 with the completion of the International Space Station, to support efforts to return to the moon by 2020, agency officials said.

NASA’s first and only current educator mission specialist, Barbara R. Morgan, 52—a former teacher who was the backup to the original "teacher in space," Christa McAuliffe—is currently listed for a shuttle-mission in 2006. But all the shuttle mission schedules are likely to face changes, officials said.

NASA may balk at putting an educator on the space shuttle, said Richard E. Berendzen, a professor of physics and astronomy at American University in Washington. Though an educator in space "is an appealing idea to NASA, because it has such broad public appeal, ... the shuttle is a questionable vehicle, [and] the fate of the [space] station is debatable," said Mr. Berendzen, who was on the NASA panel that picked Ms. McAuliffe in 1985.

Vol. 23, Issue 37, Page 16

Published in Print: May 19, 2004, as NASA Picks Three Teachers For Educator-Astronaut Roles
Web Resources
  • Meet the next class of astronauts from NASA, including interviews with and biographies on the three educator astronauts. NASA provides a section of its site specifically for educators.
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