Science students at Pottsville High School in Arkansas have been chosen, along with students in 19 other schools nationally, to participate in a new computer network involving the International Space Station.

The program—called the Tele-science Resource Kit, or TReK for short—was designed by NASA engineers to allow scientists from around the world to access experimental data collected on board the space station.

Researchers who have been approved to fly experiments aboard the space station will be able to monitor their projects via the internet without actually being in space or at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Voice communication with the astronauts also will be possible.

NASA is using the 20 public schools as test sites for voice-over-IP, video, and data experiments. The schools will be able to receive information from real experiments as it is generated.

Pottsville High School became involved when teacher Ed Roberts attended an internship at the Marshall Space Flight Center last summer.

“NASA was looking to set up [its] test network to verify reliability in the TReK system,” Roberts said. “Since education is a high priority for NASA, it became apparent to the researchers developing TReK that the help they needed could be furnished by teachers attending the summer institute.

“All we had to do was agree to become a NASA research site, an exciting way for our schools to integrate space technology in our classrooms,” he said.

The TReK testing will continue for about six months, at which time the system will become operational and Pottsville High School will be given the opportunity to participate in research being conducted by NASA scientists.

“I feel very lucky to be given the opportunity to bring this type of cutting-edge technology to our students,” Roberts added.

The idea behind TReK is to make it easy for science teams working in their own laboratories on Earth to receive information from and transmit commands to their experiments aboard the Space Station, 220 miles in space.

“TReK is a user-friendly, PC-based system,” said Michelle Schneider, who leads the team of NASA engineers who developed TReK at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “PC advancements—processing power, memory, and networking capabilities—enable PCs to support this system.”

TReK uses off-the-shelf computer hardware and software, which makes it cost-effective for users. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if what we needed was already out there,” said Schneider. “We provide users with TReK, the noncommercial software, and a list of suggested hardware—basically, any PC—and software that is readily available.”

NASA provided all equipment free. The equipment already is in the schools, connected to the NASA network, and initial tests are underway.

One of the first voice tests planned at Pottsville High School will be to conduct an interview. Roberts’ students will be able to ask questions to an astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The students already have held data tests with the other schools, as well as with NASA scientists in Alabama.

TReK works by receiving and relaying information to the main computer system in the Science Operations Center at the Marshall Center. Science teams will specify what information they want to obtain from their experiments and in what intervals.

Once the experiment is underway, the main computer system in the Operations Center retrieves the requested information and routes it to the TReK system. TReK processes and displays the information for the science teams. In turn, science teams can send information through TReK to the main computer system, which relays it to the experiment.

“TReK is not just another NASA-sponsored educational program,” Roberts said. “It is an actual space research initiative utilizing the latest in internet capabilities to conduct space-related research and activities aboard the International Space Station.”

Pottsville School District
http://apache.afsc.k12.ar.us/

Marshall Space Flight Center
http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/