Silver Ridge students’ names head to final frontier

Anyone who’s ever signed a dollar bill can brag that their name has circulated all over the United States, possibly the world. But this fall, about 500 Silver Ridge Elementary School students will be able to make a bolder claim — that their names have gone to space and back.

Lockheed Martin’s annual Space Day program rolled into Silver Ridge on May 2 and offered students a unique opportunity. Students signed a large poster emblazoned with a Space Day logo that will be digitally scanned onto a CD and blasted off into space during a fall mission to the International Space Station.

“It’s like one of the one million schools (that get to do it),” said Jeston, a student of Kim Peck’s at Silver Ridge. “It’s nice and lucky. Really lucky.”

Perhaps, though, not in the way Jeston was thinking. A lot of the luck for him and his classmates was in landing Peck as a teacher at their school. Signing up for the program is apparently an issue of pure initiative.

“We just send out e-mail to see who wants to do it and if you respond, you get to do it,” Lockheed Configuration Analyst Cheryl Tucker said.

There is of course a cap on how many schools can participate — 500, a little less than Jeston estimated — but millions of students have participated in the program during its existence.

Since its “launch” — Lockheed’s pun — in 1997, the Space Day educational initiative has taken place in 21 countries on six continents and has sent the signatures of several hundred thousands of teachers and millions of students into space.

The aim of the initiative is to promote math, science, technology and engineering education among students by generating an interest in space travel and exploration.

To that end, the program would appear to be successful, at least if the enthusiasm of Peck’s students was any indication.

“It’s interesting; like the planets and the colors and all the life that’s there,” Silver Ridge student Liam said of outer space.

“I like the (lack of) gravity. It’s fun,” classmate Jordan added.

Students spent time last week studying various aspects of space. They read books and did mathematic conversions to figure out what their weights would be on the various planets in the solar system.

They also got a visit from Tucker on Friday, who explained a little more about the Space Day program and shared a little knowledge about space.

“When you’re looking at a space shuttle and it’s white and gray, this is what that is,” Tucker said, while holding up a small white tile from the outer lining of a shuttle.

She also explained the process of the signature program.

After the kids — and some teachers, Peck confessed — sign the Space Day poster, it’s sent in to Lockheed to be scanned onto a CD with all the other signatures from all the other schools in the country participating in the program. Once that CD has been created, it’s added to the equipment manifest of a mission to the International Space Station in the fall. The posters are sent back to the schools that signed them and each student receives a certificate authenticating the fact that their name has been digitally flown into space.

Space Shuttle mission STS-126 has tentatively been tagged as the mission that will carry students’ signatures into space. The shuttle Endeavor is slated to carry out the mission, which is planned for Oct. 16, 2008.

Though kids are only supposed to sign their names, due to space constraints, one Silver Ridge student managed to squeeze a message in: “Have a safe trip. You rock.”

Well, why not? Once an elementary school participates in the program, they’re taken off the list for six years, to prevent students’ names from being on more than one mission, and thus maximizing the amount of names that go to space.

Peck’s students seemed to realize that it was more or less a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

“It’s gonna be cool,” Liam said.

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