Folly Quarter students' signatures return with space shuttle Discovery

Digital images of student posters went into orbit

March 10, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

While some folks wish to see their names up in lights, students at Folly Quarter Middle School can boast that their names have gone up in space.

The students at the Ellicott City school recently participated in the NASA and Lockheed Martin Student Signatures in Space (S3) program, which allows youngsters to sign posters that are scanned onto a disk and sent into orbit.

The students signed the posters last spring, and their signatures were sent up in space in late February via the space shuttle Discovery. It was the final mission for the aircraft that made its initial launch in 1984. Discovery landed safely at Kennedy Space Center in Florida shortly before noon on Wednesday.

The Student Signatures in Space program began in 1997 to generate children's interest in space travel, NASA officials said. Students sign large posters on Space Day, which falls during the first week in May.

Once the shuttle returns, student posters — which had been held by NASA — are returned to the schools with photos of the shuttle crew and NASA flight certification. Howard County school system officials say that the Folly Quarter students were among more than a half million youngsters from around the world to sign posters for the flight to celebrate Space Day.

The program is open each year to 500 schools, as well as science museums and Boy Scout and Girl Scout councils. More than 6 million students have taken part, according to NASA.

Folly Quarter seventh-grader Amy Upchurch said signing the poster for space was the first time she had put her autograph to a document since signing a gift card in fourth grade.

"I thought it was kind of cool for my name to go up in space," said Upchurch."We had been learning about it in science class and knew it was the last one of the Discovery series."

Seventh-grader Luke Turney said that he signed not only his name, but "I wrote something about our teachers, how good they are."

In all, 600 students and 50 faculty signed the poster.

Folly Quarter teachers Kirsten Willging and Sherri Morisco have sparked interest in the shuttle program in lessons that include discussion of such tragedies as the Challenger explosion that killed seven astronauts in 1986.

"In their lifetimes, the shuttle program has always existed," said Willging, who said she learned about the project in April from a parent of one of the school's students. "We try to begin at the beginning of rocketry and ideas about space travel and what a far-fetched idea it was.

"They have a lot of questions about, 'What are we going to do next?' and 'Why aren't we doing more? Why aren't we sending up people to Mars and people to the moon more often?' They're very passionate about that."

Morisco attended the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis last year in Florida. She had dreams of becoming an astronaut as a youngster, and she readily shares her passion for NASA's program with her students.

"What they really enjoyed was learning about these people who decided to do something that had never been done," said Morisco. "One thing they learn about in elementary school was about explorers who came to this country, those who explored the West, and space really is that next frontier."

Upchurch said that while she enjoyed taking part in Signatures in Space she doesn't have aspirations of becoming an astronaut. "It's kind of freaky to go up in space," she said, "but it's kind of cool to research it."

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