Laura Slacum, a teacher at Orangefield High School, is one of the forty-six teachers selected from across the nation for the prestigious LiftOff Summer Institute to be held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston this summer. The year 2009 marks the 20th consecutive year that teachers from around the country increase their knowledge of space education through the LiftOff Professional Development Summer Institute.

 The LiftOff Summer Institute is a collaborative effort of Texas Space Grant Consortium members and affiliates, NASA, and industry. Teachers apply for LiftOff and are selected competitively. The workshops are organized around an aerospace or space science theme drawn from NASA’s diverse engineering and scientific research programs. The theme for LiftOff 2009 is Celestial Travelers. The program combines the strengths of collaborators to enrich teaching and learning of science, mathematics, technology and engineering. 

The competitive weeklong institute features a series of workshops, hands-on activities, field trips, and featured presentations by NASA scientists working on various missions. Thousands of years ago, on a small rocky planet orbiting a modest star in an ordinary spiral galaxy, our remote ancestors looked up and wondered about their place between Earth and sky. Today, we ask the same profound questions. How did the universe begin and evolve? How did we get here? Where are we going? Are we alone? 

Today, after only the blink of an eye in cosmic time, we are beginning to answer these questions. Space probes and space observations have played a central role in this process of discovery.

Participants will learn about NASA missions and research relating to astronomy, the solar system, the sun and its interaction with Earth, and how this science stretches from the middle levels of Earth’s atmosphere to the beginning of the universe, billions of light years away.

Educators selected will come together July 12-17 in Houston to conduct experiments, tour facilities, and network with other educators while sharing innovative lesson plans and ideas. The LiftOff workshops prove that the excitement teachers and students feel about space science and exploration can be tapped to enrich math, science, and technology. The workshops also provide teachers the rare–and for some, unique–opportunity to spend a week working with professional scientists and engineers.