What is your favourite food in space and how do you sleep? How do you dodge space debris? What engineering field do you need to study to become an astronaut? So, if there’s no police in space, what happens if you commit a crime there? How frequently do you contact your family and how do you do it? Are there any procedures in place for astronauts if encounter extra-terrestrial life forms?

These are just a few of the fascinating questions asked by earthbound scouts and answered by NASA astronaut, Drew Morgan aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during a once-in-a-lifetime in-flight educational video interaction, sponsored by cutting-edge South African educational specialists, I-Innovate.  There are not many of us who will ever be able to claim to have chatted with someone in space, but 50 South African scouts attending the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, USA were amongst 300 lucky scouts who were part of this extraordinary, potentially life-changing experience.  

On Wednesday, 24 July 2019, orbiting 400 kilometres above Earth, the ISS passed over the site where nearly 50,000 scouts and troop leaders from over 169 countries around the world were gathered for a global event highlighting; cultural diversity, adventure, sustainability, peace and community service. This enabled a 20 minute live space-to-earth connection, known as a ‘downlink’, between our future leaders and NASA astronauts in space.

NASA Astronaut, Greg Johnson at the Jamboree said, “The ISS is one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of our civilization. Today scouts from around the world have cometogether to get a glimpse into life on the Station and speak directly to a STEM professional in space. These international programmes with I-Innovate activate the innate curiosity of young peoples. They foster discovery through real-world experiences and prepare them with the competencies that are necessary in the 21st century.”

I-Innovate enabled the ISS downlink as part of its international science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) work. This is a programme to inspire young South African learners to pursue STEM subjects and develop 21stcentury skills for the future workforce. They not only connect learners to experts and professionals in the field, but also to their global peers through interactive, hands-on experiences just like this.  

Trisha Crookes, CEO of I-Innovate says, “It has been beyond exciting to host this live event with South African scouts and their international peers as they connected directly to the ISS this week and created life long memories while interacting with Drew Morgan in space. I do believe that these young innovators are going to be up there one day, helping to solve some of the world’s greatest problems through research in space. We are very proud to be a part of this international collaboration and to open up opportunities for these young people to be inspired to reach beyond perceived limitations and to dream big and achieve great things in the world.” 

This is not the first time I-Innovate has connected South African learners to the ISS. Learners and educators in Cape Town and Johannesburg were part of a live research experiment taking place in their classrooms and simultaneously on the ISS. This project, called the ‘ExoLab’ involved students using advance technology to launch a plant-based experiment on a SpaceX rocket and monitor the effects of microgravity on living things in a  classroom growth chamber and on the Space Station. They worked alongside scientists, researchers and astronauts to share their findings and participate in the earth-to-space research experiment through a live-stream and online learning platform.

“The experience the scouts had of being able to ask questions of an astronaut on the International Space Station, at the frontiers of human advancement, cannot be under-estimated,” says Andrew Tanner, the Chief Commissioner of Scouth South Africa. “They were all very excited and appreciative of the unique experience and we are thrilled that our scouts and leaders had this opportunity which they will never forget.  For each and every one of them, it will shape their lives in very positive  ways.”

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