NASA Chooses Alamogordo to Host NM’s First K-12 Space Station Downlink

Alamogordo students are getting a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on February 21.

NASA selected the New Mexico Museum of Space History, in conjunction with the Alamogordo School District and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, to host a downlink from the ISS. The museum was one of 14 organizations nationwide chosen to participate in the program for Expedition 54 as part of the “Year of Education on Station.”

This event marks the first time that a K-12 school in New Mexico has participated in the in-flight downlink program.

NASA’s in-flight education downlinks give students the opportunity to learn first-hand from space explorers what it is like to live and work in space. NASA’s Johnson Space Center Office of Education facilitates the events. Downlinks are designed to enhance student learning, performance and interest in STEM.

“This is a unique opportunity for students in our area and we are very proud that the museum and our local schools are able to lead the way for our state,” said Museum Executive Director Christopher Orwoll. “Talking with astronauts onboard a spacecraft was once reserved for an astronaut on the ground, the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM.  Now, through NASA’s ISS Downlink program, our students get to ask questions of the crew and see them living and working in space. ”

The Alamogordo Downlink project involves students from Alamogordo High School, Academy del Sol, Chaparral, Mountain View, and Holloman Middle Schools, and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

There will be a total of six teams, one from each school. Team members were chosen by each school’s principal and science teachers.

“It is so exciting for APS to be the first K-12 school district in the state to be part of this wonderful endeavor. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our students to interact with astronauts onboard the International Space Station – something that we hope inspires them for a lifetime,” said APS Superintendent Adrianne Salas. “We want to thank the Education Department at the New Mexico Museum of Space History for bringing this program to us, especially Dave Dooling and the museum staff,” she added.

During a twenty minute window, spokesmen from each team will take turns asking questions of Astronaut Joe Acaba—a former high school science teacher—Scott Tingle, and Mark Vande Hei.  NASA requires that each Downlink proposal include an education and outreach component to give students background for their questions.

In May of 2017 when submitting his plan to NASA, Museum of Space History Education Director Dave Dooling proposed something a little different – a challenge that would have student teams designing and building a small payload based around the effect of zero G on fluids.

His proposal to NASA was accepted in May and he’s been coordinating with the schools ever since.

“We developed design guidelines for a package about the same size as an experiment drawer on a space station experiment rack,” said Dooling. “We provided base plates built from pegboard and a frame of PVC tubing, and told them to be imaginative with things like water bottles, cameras, even seltzer tablets. And we are providing guidance as the students design and test their payloads.”

Local pilot Mike Haymes has donated his time and aircraft to take the experiments aloft, where Dooling will use free fall as a laboratory to carry out the team experiments. The test flights will take place in late January and early February. The students will analyze the results and present their findings as part of the Downlink event.

The Alamogordo Downlink project will be held at Alamogordo High School’s Tiger Pit on Wednesday, February 21 from 9:00 – 11:00 am. More than 1200 students are expected to assemble at the Pit to watch. Seating there will be reserved for students and teachers. Parents and the general public are invited to the Flickinger Center, 1110 North New York Avenue, to watch the Downlink project live on NASA’s website. A space museum educator will be on hand to talk about the project.

The viewing will be free to parents and the public. Seating will be on a first come, first served basis.

The New Mexico Museum of Space History, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is a division of the NM Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, call 575-437-2840 or toll free 1-877-333-6589 or visit the website or Like the Facebook Page.

Scott D. Tingle was selected by NASA in 2009. Raised in Randolph, Massachusetts, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Southeastern Massachusetts University, and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Following graduate school, Captain Tingle spent three years with the Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, California, as a member of technical staff in their Propulsion Department; and was commissioned as a naval officer in 1991. He is currently a part of the Expedition 54/55 crew that launched to the International Space Station in December 2017.
Mark T. Vande Hei was selected by NASA in 2009. From Falls Church, Virginia, Vande Hei earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Saint John’s University and a Master of Science in Applied Physics from Stanford University. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program and served as a combat engineer. In 1999, he became an assistant professor of physics at the United States Military Academy in West Point. He is currently a part of the Expedition 53/54 crew that launched to the International Space Station in September 2017.
Joseph M. Acaba was selected by NASA in 2004. The California native has logged a total of 138 days in space during two missions. In 2009, Acaba flew aboard STS-119 on the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station to deliver the final pair of power-generating solar array wings and a truss element. During this mission, he conducted two spacewalks. In 2012, Acaba flew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the space station where he worked as Flight Engineer for the Expedition 31/32. During this mission, the first commercial resupply spacecraft, SpaceX Dragon, arrived at the station. Acaba recently served as Director of Operations Russia in Star City supporting crew training in Soyuz and Russian Segment systems. He is currently a part of the Expedition 53/54 crew that launched to the International Space Station in September 2017.