STA Participated in Microgravity University for Educators at NASA

News Date : 04/18/2017

Saint Thomas Academy Participated in Microgravity University for Educators Activity at NASA Johnson Space Center

A team of educators representing Saint Thomas Academy was one of 12 teams nationally invited to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston April 11-14, to test student-derived experiments in a simulated microgravity environment as part of the Microgravity University for Educators program. The Saint Thomas Academy 5-teacher team included (L-R):

  • Kara Ehlert, Saint Thomas Academy math teacher
  • Ted Siefkes, Scott Highlands Middle School (Apple Valley) science teacher
  • Caroline Little, Saint Thomas Academy French teacher
  • Mark Westlake, Saint Thomas Academy physics teacher
  • Emily Dauk, Mankato East High School math teacher


Through a competitive process, educator teams submitted proposals to perform orbital insertion experiments on behalf of their K-12 students at Johnson Space Center’s astronaut training facilities. The approximately 42 Saint Thomas Academy students were challenged to design a solution to a technical problem, or improve an existing solution, identified by NASA scientists and engineers who use simulated microgravity environments in their work. A NASA engineer or scientist guides each participating team through the engineering design process. Once at Johnson, the teachers will test the students’ Satellite Launching Experimental Device (SLED) on the Precision Air Bearing Floor.

The students developed three key design parameters for their SLED early in the project:

  • The disk must always be shot straight.
  • The disk must leave the launcher at the same speed. 
  • The design must be simple.

“It has become an increasingly complex problem for us to solve,” Little said, “It has provided our hands-on students and our top math students an interesting challenge.”

The testing was shared via videoconference / live-streaming by NASA Ustream. Saint Thomas Academy’s team also posted updates and photos to its Microgravity University Facebook page:

Below: On APril 11, STA students participated in the live-stream test of the team's SLED and a videoconference with their teachers about possible improvements for test day two.

About Microgravity University for Educators
Microgravity University for Educators provides 50 continuing professional education hours through training on NASA Education resources about microgravity and how NASA simulates microgravity on earth. Microgravity University for Educators is funded through the STEM Education Accountability Project to help advance NASA Education’s contribution to the national Co-STEM goal of preparing 100,000 new K-12 STEM teachers by 2020.

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