NASA turns tech trip into classroom opportunity

"NASA Mike" is on the road again to show students that space is cool — this time in the hot zone.

Mike Comberiate, external interfaces manager for the Earth Observing System program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, has taken students and teachers to Hilo, Hawaii, to discover how rocks become rainforests.

Their tools: The Internet and NASA's satellite imagery.

Portions of the 10-day trip, which lasts until May 15, will be broadcast live at coolspace.gsfc.nasa.gov/hawaii as part of class lesson plans.

NASA Mike, as he is most commonly known, has been working through the Communications Over Obscure Locations Special Purpose Advance Communications Equipment, or COOLSPACE, to bring NASA's Earth science data products directly to the classroom. In the past, he has traveled to Aruba to monitor the total solar eclipse and to Antarctica to study the ozone hole.

Using NASA's satellite imagery of Hawaiian terrain and weather patterns, some of the 30 educators traveling with NASA Mike will be able to conduct distance learning with their classes. Participating schools have purchased satellite antennas and related equipment.

"We have to do things driven by science and engineering, and get kids involved," Comberiate said. The more NASA's data is used to enhance learning, the more justification NASA has for creating new data products through future space missions, he said.

"We can put out lots of posters and Web sites, but that doesn't necessarily help you" get people involved, he said. "Technology is making it easier to get involved."

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