A Mission Without Borders

2017-07-20

    HOUSTON, TX, July 20, 2017 — It’s 4:00 in the morning in Oklahoma City. Miss Stewart stands in her backyard waiting for the ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and NASA Mission X ambassador Thomas Pesquet to pass overhead aboard the International Space Station. All that hangs in the sky is the moon, and all that moves are her eyes as she scans for the International Space Station. Suddenly, she spots a bright light traveling overhead and points the camera at its trajectory.

“My whole class and I have been saying hello to Thomas as he has been flying over our heads,” Stewart said.

Several miles away, her students have pulled their families out into their yards. Buttoned up in warm coats, they all greet Pesquet as the station soars overhead. The video transitions from student to student as they move back and forth between waving at the station and waving at the camera.

This video is one of hundreds that populate the Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut website. In the last six years, technology advances have placed NASA into rural and non-rural schools around the world. From teacher to student, from student to family, from post to repost, the Mission X project has been a result of crowdsourcing.

Originally designed to address the growing 21st-century concern regarding pediatric obesity, the program has evolved into a platform of international communication that has grown past merely health and fitness. As ESA astronaut and 2015 Mission X ambassador Samantha Cristoferetti said, “Your body is your spaceship for life.”

This year alone, 38 countries have united under the Mission X banner. With two challenges a year, one in the fall and one in the spring, nearly 105,000 total participants have contributed, step by step. This global mission counted the steps of children, the elderly and individuals with unique needs: a total of 498,372,000 steps from Earth to the moon, and 66,000 steps around the planet.

Tim Gushanas, lead software engineer within the Human Research Program team, is largely responsible for the online presence and interactive Web design of Mission X. His work has driven the expansion of the project across international borders, as the Mission X activities have become available in 19 different languages. The participants themselves shape the online world of Mission X, sharing their experiences along with tips and tricks. Gushanas credits the recent advancement in translation software as a major contributor to the project’s international success.

“The goal is to get countries communicating across borders,” Gushanas said.

Mission X is a tool that is useful to an array of fields. It is relevant in science, technology, health, fitness and international partnerships, as the audience is universal.

One of the greatest attributes of the Mission X approach to technology is the project’s understanding of the environment in which it will be used. Considering distributors like YouTube might be blocked inside a school system, and noting the limitations of the Internet in international regions, all resources are designed with this in mind. Ultimately, Mission X activities are designed for print or mobile devices, moving the traditional classroom into the field.

A new development of the Mission X campaign across borders is the point-awarding system. This system creates an interactive interface where teachers, teams and schools from around the world can come into contact with other like-minded individuals.

For example, a classroom of students from rural Mexico left their hometown for the first time to Skype with students in Oklahoma. After the Boston bombing, students used the interface of the Mission X webpage to reach out with condolences. Teachers who come into contact with other teachers facilitate pen pals between classrooms.

Mission X gives children more than space–it exposes them to the world they share with other students of different cultures and backgrounds. It creates a universal language that prioritizes health of mind and body and a commitment to an international approach in reaching goals.

NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to human health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station and analog environments. This leads to the development and delivery of a program focused on: human health, performance and habitability standards; countermeasures and risk-mitigation solutions; and advanced habitability and medical-support technologies. HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.

Melanie Whiting Laurie Abadie NASA Human Research Strategic Communications

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