"I am really excited about my name going up into space," said Jake Suchman, 8. "It is as if I am up there with my signature doing all the experiments the astronauts are doing."
For eight-year-old Marina Zernik, "I wish that I could go up to space with my signature. My mom and dad would be so proud of me if I could be up there with it."
The shuttle launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday afternoon. The launch gave the children a chance to participate in Signatures in Space, a program sponsored by NASA and Lockheed Martin that began in 1997 as a way to draw kids into space studies by giving them a personal connection.
"Schools that apply are registered on a first-come, first-served basis, and only 500 schools are chosen per year," said third grade teacher Kathi Byington, who discovered the program last year while teaching a science unit on the sun, moon and stars. "Our school did get picked, and we were sent a large (Signatures in Space) poster with lesson plans and information about the mission their signed posters were going to fly on."
Byington then worked with computer teacher, Polly Toohey, to obtain student signatures from all youngsters on the K-5 campus. "I got all our staff members to sign, too," Byington said.
Students will be monitoring the progress of the flight online. As soon as the shuttle returns, "we are supposed to get the poster back with a signed photo of the astronaut crew who took the signatures to space and a NASA flight certificate verifying that the signatures flew in space," said Byington, adding that the actual poster did not go into space — rather, the signatures were scanned onto a disk and flown aboard the space shuttle.
"I can't wait to see the certificate that comes back with our school's poster that says my signature went up into space. I will have proof," Jake said. The youngster has learned many new things through Signatures in Space; for instance, "I didn't know that the name of the Discovery mission was STS-133, short for Space Transportation System. All the space shuttles have really cool names. I'd like to name one."
Before the program, Marina didn't know there were so many female astronauts. "The women on the different space shuttles must be so smart and brave to go up into space. They make me want to study harder. ... I am so motivated to do well in math and science."
Programs like this are exciting because they literally "lift" the science lessons off the page and bring them to life, said Principal Amie Mills. "It's a great way to connect classroom learning to all the real-life possibilities. Some of these students may be tomorrow's scientists and astronauts."
With declining budgets, "interactive programs like the NASA student signature project are vitally important because they augment learning in such a positive way" Mills added. "Anything we can do to spark the imaginations of these young minds will benefit their entire educational experience."
"I so appreciate that the Signatures in Space program exists," said Nikki Zivkov, 8. It is a great way for kids like me to feel like we are actually up in space. It also makes me want to keep up with the Discovery's mission and watch to see what they learn about up in space."