Higher Orbits: Using space to engage students in STEM @ CES 2022 - Show Notes

Higher Orbits: Using space to engage students in STEM @ CES 2022

Tuesday Mar 1, 2022 (00:12:40)


For generations, people across the globe have looked into the night sky and dreamed that some part of them would one day be able to go there. Over the past few years, the ability to purchase a ticket to physically travel to space has become a reality, though the costs are still incredibly high. However, for some, the ability to have a piece of their legacy in space is still a realistic possibility, thanks to the educational program at Higher Orbits Foundation.

What is Higher Orbits Foundation?

Did you know that there are over 1,000 satellites orbiting Earth right now? Higher Orbits uses this and other space-related facts to engage students in STEM education. They believe that space offers an infinite number of opportunities to learn, and their programs are designed to help students build the skills they need to succeed in life. Their first program (Go For Launch!) was a huge success, and they are excited to continue engaging students in science and math education!

What is Go For Launch?

Higher Orbits' Go For Launch! program is a week-long camp that introduces students to the basics of rocket science and spaceflight. Students will learn about the history of space exploration, the physics of space travel, and the challenges of living and working in space. They will also have the opportunity to build and launch their own model rockets. Most interestingly, students have the opportunity to design an experiment that could be built and sent to the International Space Station!

This sounds like an incredible experience for any student interested in STEM, but Higher Orbits doesn't stop there. They also offer programs for educators, to help them bring space into their classrooms. These programs are designed to engage students of all ages in learning, whether they want to be astronauts when they grow up or not!

If you're looking for a way to engage your students in STEM education, Higher Orbits is a great option! They offer programs for students of all ages, and their camps are affordable and fun. To learn more about Higher Orbits Foundation, visit their website at higherorbits.org!

How can Higher Orbits help my students?

Higher Orbits Foundation's goal is simple - they want to engage as many students as possible in STEM education. They believe that space provides an infinite number of opportunities for learning, and they are committed to helping more students explore those opportunities. With your help, they can continue reaching more classrooms and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers!

Higher Orbits offers a variety of programs that can be tailored to meet the needs of your classroom. From learning about satellites and space travel to working on critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Higher Orbits has a program for your class! They also offer scholarships to help make their programs available to all students.


To learn more about Higher Orbits Foundation, to find out how to participate in a camp, or to get involved with the program, head to the organization's website.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Christopher Jordan of The Talking Sound.

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Scott Ertz

Episode Author

Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.


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Erin Hurst (00:07)

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Christopher Jordan (00:27)

That is great. You know, the Case Western Hallway down the aisle that they have is one of my favorites.

Todd Cochrane (00:34)

I couldn't find it this year. Did you find it?

Christopher Jordan (00:37)

I did, because I actually had an interview that I had to redo from two years ago. Yeah. With a guy from Case Western that makes 3D printed violins.

Todd Cochrane (00:45)


Christopher Jordan (00:46)

Um, so yeah.

Todd Cochrane (00:47)

All right.

Christopher Jordan (00:48)

That was really, really exciting stuff to see.

Michelle Lucas (00:50)


Todd Cochrane (00:51)

Hi, how are you doing? I love your outfit. Yeah, I love your outfit. Yeah.

Michelle Lucas (01:01)

I believe that there's no reason you know that we can have a little-

Todd Cochrane (01:01)

That's right. That's right. Let's bring her up on.

Christopher Jordan (01:05)

Here we go.

Todd Cochrane (01:06)

Okay, so are you with Langualess?

Michelle Lucas (01:09)

No, I'm with Higher Orbit.

Todd Cochrane (01:11)

Higher Orbits.

Michelle Lucas (01:12)

I'm the person Marlo, you know, strong arms, you guys into having a conversation with.

Todd Cochrane (01:18)

Oh Ok. There's no strong arms or whatsoever. So why don't you give us the elevator pitch. Introduce yourself and everything.

Michelle Lucas (01:25)

Sure. So my name is Michelle Lucas and I am the founder and CEO of Higher Orbits. We are a 501c3 that uses spaceflight to engage students in STEM while building teamwork leadership and communication.

Todd Cochrane (01:36)


Michelle Lucas (01:37)

Marlo and I met when a different company I have. We started national astronaut day a handful of years ago. And we're geeks together. I'm a space geek. He's the Guru of geeks and so here I am. And you guys, obviously, you know, the geek theme continues.

Todd Cochrane (01:53)

If you have a direct connection to Elon's time, I'm waiting for my Starlink antenna.

Michelle Lucas (01:58)

You know, I do not boy talk. You know, I'll add that to the list of people who have requested, including Tesla, Starlink, flights on Dragon, you know all the things right.

Todd Cochrane (02:08)

Right. So it's exciting. So you guys are actually building to orbit packages with, so tell us all about that.

Michelle Lucas (02:15)

Yeah, so what we do is we have this program called Go For Launch! where high school students get the opportunity to work with an astronaut for the entire event, two or three days, not a 40 minute talk 12 questions and out the door. The astronaut serves as a mentor along with other individuals in the aerospace and tech world to talk about STEM. The students have to come up with an idea that fits in what we call a one year cube. It's a 10 centimeter cube, think about the size of a Kleenex box and they compete to have that experiment flown to space and the winning teams experiments actually fly to space. We've sent 12 to the space station, one suborbital Liana Blue Origin rocket. We'll send our third, our next one, our 13th to the space station next month on Antares rocket. And these are ideas that come from students. These are not ideas that I come up with or professional scientists, Principal Investigators come up with. These are student ideas. These are the next generation of STEM's next explorers. And honestly, some of it is empowered by the tech that exists and gets debuted here at CES. And I suspect we'll see some of our students at CES one day with their brilliant ideas.

Todd Cochrane (03:20)

So they envision and build.

Michelle Lucas (03:23)

So they envision, they define, envision, define and design. They don't build it unless it's going to actually fly to space. So every team comes up with a concept. And then once it's time for it to be built, we work with our integration partner Space Tango at Lexington, Kentucky, and they work with the students to further refine the concepts and build it. Get it safety approved and all those things and get on a rocket to launch to space.

Todd Cochrane (03:48)

Get it flight ready.

Michelle Lucas (03:49)


Christopher Jordan (03:49)

It's really cool.

Todd Cochrane (03:50)

So do you go on? You often see the launch partners now doing the launch, 50 different projects. So are you going on one of those types of launch missions where you're some that stuff is just getting pushed out of the certain orbit? Or like you said some stuff goes in the International Space Station.

Michelle Lucas (04:08)


Todd Cochrane (04:08)


Michelle Lucas (04:09)

And so there's a variety of ways that people do things. We don't do cubesats, so those are the things that get kicked off and orbit the earth and all that good stuff, which is amazing. That's not our bailiwick. We're doing science on board the space station. So the astronauts take it out of the vehicle that it comes up on right now. It's either in a sickness or a Dragon Capsule, eventually serious spaces dream chasers install it and they get 30 days of data. And I don't know about you. I mean, we spent a lot of time on our computers and there's some cool stuff on our computers, but for a teenager to be able to go to their computer and pull up data that is coming to their computer about their experiment. Yeah, from the space station. That's pretty, that's pretty cool. That's pretty game changing right?

Todd Cochrane (04:51)

That's so yeah, so you're 501c3. So where do you guys find your funding just you- industry?

Michelle Lucas (05:01)

I am a scrappy gal from the south side of Chicago. So I have jokes that I will beg for doughnuts, pencils, and everything in between, including, you know, my own personal rocket and flight to space. It comes through corporate sponsorships, some grants, we've been very fortunate to have, some wonderful companies support us in a variety of ways, individual donors, and some of it is registration based. So our programs run like camps. I'll be honest, my grand goal is for every event to be for students to pay what they can, and whether that is $20, or $200, or whatever. That's my goal. Right now, we're working to get there. And so we are big believers in every dollar counts. And so whether it's somebody who has $5, because they believe that every kid deserves access to project based learning, or it's a company who wants to write a check with a whole lot of zeros, we're grateful to have it all.

Todd Cochrane (05:56)

Because it takes a whole lot of zeros, even if something only weighs a pound. Yes, yes. To get to orbit.

Michelle Lucas (06:02)

Yes, it is not inexpensive. Spaceflight costs have come down tremendously over the last decade, 20 years. But it's still not inexpensive.

Todd Cochrane (06:11)

That's right.

Michelle Lucas (06:11)

I mean, you can see that in an analogy of air travel, right. So if we talk about humans, which I mean, what a cool thing would be to talk right now that we have more normal people flying to space, and you can parse that what it really means to things. But it used to be that only, you know, career astronauts got to go and now you can buy a ticket.

Todd Cochrane (06:32)

That's right.

Michelle Lucas (06:33)

People like oh, it costs so much. Well, yeah, so did the first airplane ticket.

Todd Cochrane (06:37)

That's right.

Michelle Lucas (06:37)

That's when the airplane started flying. And now we all see them, we're in Vegas, right? There's like $79 fares to Las Vegas. Yeah. And so costs are coming down, but it is still not inexpensive.

Todd Cochrane (06:45)

So do you then have to, once you get a project to prove then what is that process to get NASA to say it can go on the National Space Station?

Michelle Lucas (06:59)

So it's really cool, because the International Space Station, half of it, is a national lab. So the ISS National Lab allows for commercial partners, educational partners, to fly their research to the space station, where they have what's called a space act agreement. And so we work with our integrators, space tango, to go through that whole process. Basically, they want to make sure that your science is sound, that you're not going to do anything that harms the crew or the vehicle. And we've been very fortunate that they are a wonderful partner to us with that. It is game-changing. It used to take five, six years to get your experiment space. Now we can do it in about a year.

Christopher Jordan (07:37)

Every once in a while you would hear, every couple years, you'd hear about a college student with something going up or an elementary school with like an ant farm going up. But what kind of experiments are you all putting up there right now? What, what has been? Are they mostly agricultural? What does it skew one direction?

Michelle Lucas (07:55)

So Chris? That's a great question. And I will tell you that the ideas are all over the board. So we have flown bees to space, to look at the appropriate receptors and how they fly and how they feed. We have flown a bacteria experiment. There's a fungus experiment. Did you know there's fungus that I say eats radiation to grow? That's not the technical way to put it as the students put it to me. And I said, but that makes sense in my brain, because that's not my you know, not not my world. Self Healing concrete. Well, I have flown, we have lactobacillus, which is an antibiotic and whatnot. So plant growth, nitrogen fixation in plants. So as you can see, there is very, very widespread, we like the students to have free reign on a lot of things. They can't have an animal with a backbone. They want to fly, you know, a little mouse or I'm like, no, no, no, that's not what we're doing. And they're not allowed to explode with anything or no fire. Those things are generally bad in space. Yeah. But other than that, it's up to them. And the sky is actually not the limit on that.

Todd Cochrane (09:00)

So is it typically K9, K12, or- ?

Michelle Lucas (09:03)

Grade 8 through 12.

Todd Cochrane (09:04)

8 to 12.

Michelle Lucas (09:04)

Now we have done some younger subsets, but we do Grade 8 through 12. And that is actually very targeted for us from a perspective of, there's a lot of amazing programs out there. Especially for elementary and middle school. When you get to high school, the programs they kind of fall off, but they're also targeted in such a way. The ones that exist are for students who are already really geeked out. Yeah, I was the kid that was really geeked out. Don't get me wrong.

Todd Cochrane (09:29)


Michelle Lucas (09:30)

We have tried to craft our programs such that the kid who loves STEM can come and excel but the kid who's like, "Ma, STEM socks, but an astronaut's cool. I want to come hang out with an astronaut."

Todd Cochrane (09:42)


Michelle Lucas (09:42)

And we can show them that maybe Science, Technology, Engineering and Math aren't exactly what they expected because they have sometimes they very closed off-view.

Todd Cochrane (09:51)


Michelle Lucas (09:51)

Of what that means.

Todd Cochrane (09:52)

That's right.

Michelle Lucas (09:52)

And so we work very hard to show them. It's a lot broader than you probably realize.

Todd Cochrane (09:57)


Michelle Lucas (09:58)

So trying to, trying to change the hearts and minds of teenagers with STEM sometimes.

Christopher Jordan (10:02)

Sure. Now, is this a program that is greatly required? Anything like that, as far as academic performance?

Michelle Lucas (10:09)

No, we want all students who are interested. And I'll tell you what, you know, the kid that maybe is failing all of his or her classes might be exactly the kid that really needs this.

Todd Cochrane (10:20)

That's right.

Michelle Lucas (10:20)

And we're in communities all across the country. But one of the things that we are in and I say all across the country, we are a small organization. So it's not like we're in every city. But we have been in a whole lot of different states. And we actually will be here in Las Vegas in October, in conjunction with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. But we are just now announcing something we call "Your Future Flies With Us." And you can submit for your community to bring, go for launch to your students at no cost.

Todd Cochrane (10:50)


Michelle Lucas (10:51)

So that is something we were really excited to be able to announce that reached even more kiddos.

Christopher Jordan (10:57)

That is great.

Todd Cochrane (10:58)

Well, I'll tell you what. Why don't you tell the listening audience where, how.

Michelle Lucas (11:03)


Todd Cochrane (11:03)

All that information.

Michelle Lucas (11:04)

So visit us online at www.higherorbits.org. And I always remind people it's like the aerospace term, not the like though the travel website, anywhere that says Contact Us. You'll get me, the other person in the office has four legs and Fern barks at FedEx. You will get me and you can check our webpage to find out where we're going to be and we always welcome students. We also welcome STEM and tech geeks who want to come talk to students and yes, donations and right now we're also accepting donations for United miles if anybody has any bonus ones from those as you got here. So, just FYI.

Todd Cochrane (11:46)

higher orbits with an s .com

Michelle Lucas (11:49)

.org .org

Todd Cochrane (11:50)


Michelle Lucas (11:50)


Todd Cochrane (11:51)

Bravo to you. And what you guys are doing.

Michelle Lucas (11:54)

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Christopher Jordan (11:55)

That is a great program.

Todd Cochrane (11:55)

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Christopher Jordan (11:59)


Todd Cochrane (11:59)

My goodness.

Erin Hurst (12:03)

TPN CES 2022 coverage is executive produced by Michele Mendez. Technical Directors are Kurt Corless and Adam Barker. Associate producers are Nancy Ertz and Maurice McCoy. Interviews are edited by Jo Mini. Hosts are Marlo Anderson, Todd Cochrane, Scott Ertz, Christopher Jordan, Daniele Mendez, and Allante Sparks. Las Vegas studio provided by HC Productions. Remote studio provided by PLUGHITZ Productions. This has been Tech Podcasts Network Production, copyright 2022.

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