Nebraska youth have a rare opportunity to connect with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Hosted by Nebraska 4-H, the Launching Nebraska-nauts into the 4-C’able Future program will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 13 at Raising Nebraska in Grand Island. The video-feed Q&A session with three astronauts will take place from 11:40 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Satellite sites are available across the state for those who cannot attend in person.
Nebraska-nauts is a college and career readiness program for K-12 students focused on science, technology, engineering and math. The program also inspires students to expand their imaginations and perceptions of what achievements are possible through collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking (the four C’s) — with space exploration and technology being the main focus of the day.
“4-H is all about preparing youth through learning experiences,” said Tracy Pracheil, 4-H youth development extension educator. “The four C’s focused upon at this event are part of how 4-H prepares youth with the skills to face whatever they may encounter in the future, whether that be in life, college or career.”
At Raising Nebraska, affectionately dubbed “Mission Control,” more than 125 students will participate in interactive, hands-on activity stations, such as working a Cyber Satellite — a computer science activity where youth will learn about cybersecurity and decoding to stay safe from obstacles in orbit. They will also visit exhibition booths and watch the pre-recorded Q&A downlink in which Nebraska students asked questions of NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. While the downlink is normally live, this year, due to COVID-19 safety precautions, arrangements were made to pre-record the questions, which range from “How do you become an astronaut?” to “Do you play sports in space?” (Spoiler alert: The answer includes “space Olympics.”)
For those unable to make the “voyage” to Grand Island, the stars are still within grasp. 4-H will open satellite sites across the state so that students can join in the interstellar fun. More than 400 youth are already signed up to participate via satellite. The Launching Nebraska-nauts website also includes links to a number of STEM-related pre- and post-program activities for all ages.
“The downlink is the only simultaneous event,” Pracheil said, “and if it helps educators to spread the activities over time, that’s encouraged. It’s customizable. It can fit into a lot of different learning environments.”
Pre-K students might enjoy story time with the astronauts, who will read STEM-related stories such as “Rosie Revere, Engineer” from the space station. More complicated activities, such as the Rocket Power Challenge, might capture the attention of high school students.
For those interested in the arts, a digital art show will allow Nebraska students to display their “human exploration-themed art,” no matter the medium, online.
“One of the main goals of the experience is for youth to understand that the world is much bigger than what we see on a daily basis,” Pracheil said. “We want to expose youth to space exploration and how it relates to science and their future.”
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has prioritized science and technology literacy for society as one of its Grand Challenges.
Twenty youth from 11 Nebraska counties asked questions of the astronauts. They are:
- Butler County: Abby Lindsley
- Dawson County: Carson Reiman, Mythili Venkatesh, Paige Walahoski, Parker Walahoski and Jacie Wolfinger
- Douglas County: Marline Ahmed and Maddie Caldwell
- Garden County: Amy Rueda
- Hall County: Landon Boppre and Kolby McGowan
- Lancaster County: Elizabeth Hilkemann
- Madison County: Franklin Polacek
- Phelps County: Garrett Scholz
- Sarpy County: Crissy Keller, Javier Lizzaraga-Hascall, Ashlyn McGarry, Rylan Mueller, Riley Rapier and Connor Weidman