How Gardens students’ satellite launch is raising support for NASA

9:42 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 Local
Students from The Weiss School pose for a photo with the tiny satellite, a tethered balloon and a satellite emulator they made. NASA will launch the satellite into space at the end of 2018 as part of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. The Weiss School was the only middle school whose satellite NASA chose to launch. Now, the students are pushing for more support for the NASA program. (Sarah Peters/The Palm Beach Post)

NASA will launch a tiny satellite designed by Palm Beach Gardens middle school students to study whether bacteria can survive in melting ice while in orbit.

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WeissSat-1 satellite likely will launch from Cape Canaveral or an Air Force base in California by the end of the year, The Weiss School science teacher Kevin Simmons said. The satellite is primarily for education, but the students’ findings could have implications for whether life can survive anywhere other than earth.

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The private school is exclusively for gifted students in Pre-K through eighth grade.

NASA chose 34 of the educational satellites, known as CubeSats, to send into space out of more than 100 proposals. Weiss School students had the only proposal from a middle school to make the cut, Simmons said. Universities submitted 31 of the successful proposals, he said.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, told the students that out-competing other schools to get their satellite into space is “inspiring” during a visit to the school Tuesday.

Mast’s legislative director walked students through how to write a resolution that supports giving more money to NASA for the CubeSat initiative that allowed them to launch their satellite, said Shawna Christenson, the school’s oral communications and debate instructor.

Students who take an aerospace class and work on an after-school team developed the CubeSat. Those students and students from the debate team will travel to Washington Sunday to lobby Florida’s congressional delegation to raise awareness and money for NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

Next Tuesday, Mast will introduce the resolution the students drafted.

Christenson, who previously worked in a public school, wants other teachers to know about NASA’s CubeSat initiative.

“They don’t necessarily know what’s out there,” Christenson said.

The contingent of students from The Weiss School will represent the Space Exploration Alliance when they meet with lawmakers after getting a briefing from the alliance’s leaders. After their lobbying, they will visit NASA headquarters and meet other people who are part of the blitz, space advocates and experts in the field.

The students called the congressional offices first to get a feel for how knowledgeable people are about the CubeSat initiative, said eighth grade student Mackenzie G., whose mother asked that her last name not be used.

All of the congressional staff members are very receptive to talking about it, she said. It’s important that other students get the same opportunities to expand their learning and get CubeSats into space that The Weiss School students have, she said.