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Annie Fisher Magnet School To Have Role in Final Space Shuttle Flight

Vanessa De La Torre

May 06, 2011

The Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School is barely in its first year of existence. But the students learned this week that it soon will be a footnote in American space flight history.

A small model of Space Shuttle Atlantis sat on a table in the school auditorium earlier this week, facing about 325 children who alternated from jubilant hoots to silent awe with the news that they will create an experiment and a mission patch that will fly on the NASA shuttle next month.

"This is something that no other student right now at the elementary and middle school age in the state of Connecticut is getting to participate in," Principal Melony Brady said, "and I want you to recognize how fortunate you all are."

STS-135, as the Atlantis flight is officially called, is scheduled to be the final one in the 30-year-old NASA space shuttle program when it launches from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on June 28. Atlantis will transport a crew of four astronauts on a 12-day mission to deliver spare parts and supplies to the International Space Station, orbiting 240 miles from Earth's surface.

It will also carry a clear, slender block, about a half-foot in length and drilled with holes large enough to hold only the smallest vials.

One will be reserved for Annie Fisher, the K-8 magnet school in the city's North End. The rest belong to the 11 other schools in the country selected to take part in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a nearly year-old initiative from the nonprofit National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in Washington, D.C.

The "STEM" in the Annie Fisher name stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and a key part of the curriculum is to mimic real-life demands from those industries, said Rachael Manzer, an educator at Annie Fisher who has been training for a commercial space flight as part of the Teachers in Space program.

The students are working under a tight deadline. Hamilton Sundstrand engineers are mentoring the fifth- to eighth-grade teams that will be designing potential experiments for the shuttle flight, and the students need to finish their proposals by Monday.

The top three Annie Fisher submissions go to the nation's capital, and over the next several weeks, the winning experiment will be chosen and undergo a flight safety review from NASA.

The school's younger students are competing, too. Each kindergartner to fourth-grader is designing a mission patch on 4-by-4-inch paper that depicts STEM education no parent or teacher help allowed. Employees at Hamilton Sundstrand, which helped sponsor the $20,000 cost for Annie Fisher's participation in the program, will vote for the best one.

That patch will join Atlantis' final ride.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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