Texas Teacher Aims for the Stars

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Maureen Adams (Credit: Citizens in Space)

Killeen, TX (Citizens in Space PR) -– Astronauts have lived and trained in Texas for 50 years, but no astronaut has ever flown into space from Texas. That will change in the next few years when XCOR Aerospace begins flights from a new spaceport in Midland, Texas.

Maureen Adams, a teacher and principal at West Ward Elementary School in Killeen, Texas hopes to be among the first Lone Star astronauts.

Adams is an astronaut candidate who is part of Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy which has purchased 10 flights on the Lynx suborbital spacecraft (currently being developed in Mojave, California by XCOR Aerospace). Citizens in Space has already chosen its first four astronaut candidates, three of whom are from Texas: Maureen Adams and two others to be named later this year.

“It’s too soon to say where the flights will launch from,” Adams said. “It could be Mojave, Midland, Florida, or even Curacao. I’m hoping for Texas.”

XCOR expects Lynx test flights to begin early next year and continue for about a year before commercial operations begin. Citizens in Space will fly soon after that. “We’re expecting that our first flights will be in early 2014,” Adams said.

Adams has already proven she has the right stuff in a training program that includes high-g and zero-g aircraft flights, unpowered landings, and flight simulators. She was chosen as a citizen astronaut candidate in July 2009. At that time, the program was known as Teachers in Space. In 2011, Teachers in Space became Citizens in Space.

“We’ve broadened our focus to be more inclusive,” Adams said. “Our program will include informal educators, university students, and hobbyists, as well as teachers.

“We also have a new emphasis on citizen science. One of the complaints about Teachers in Space was that people didn’t know what the teachers would be doing during their flights.

“This isn’t just a joyride. Each of our flights will carry 10 to 12 citizen-science experiments. We’ll be operating experiments, working with researchers, and gathering new knowledge in areas of space science that have not been full explored.”

Adams emphasized the difference between citizen science and textbook experiments commonly performed in school classrooms. “These will be true experiments, not mere demonstrations of known principles. Citizen science is asking questions where the answers are not known.”

One of the experiments Adams may operate is a High Altitude Astrobiology investigation designed to capture microorganisms living at the edge of space. “Biologists have discovered there are living organisms at altitudes up to 100,000 feet or more, but we don’t have a good way to collect those organisms at present. Developing such a system is important for global epidemiology, bioprospecting, and other disciplines. That’s the sort of cutting-edge research we’ll be involved in.”

Other experiments may involve fluid physics, materials science, remote sensing, and astronomy.

“Students need to see teachers doing real scientific research,” Adams said, “And teachers need experience with real research so they can accurately teach the process to students.”