The Artemis 1 moon rocket. Photo by Greg Scott.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Wise County and Norton City Schools students have the opportunity to participate in NASA’s Artemis-1 test flight mission through data collection on a Miles Space CubeSat payload student instrument flying around the moon no earlier than May. 

The mega-moon rocket known as the Artemis-1 is on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad 39B for the first time last Friday, but it won’t be leaving Earth just yet. 

About the Artemis mission

Artemis is the name for the new U.S. crewed mission to the moon. The Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed test flight that will circle the moon; it’s scheduled to launch as early as May. Artemis 2 is planned as a lunar flyby sometime in 2024 with Atemis 3 landing on the moon in 2025.

The St. Patrick’s Day roll to the pad is for a rehearsal when NASA launch managers conduct all steps in the countdown except the liftoff. It’s a critical end-to-end test for all teams that support the rocket, from running the launch countdown, fueling the rocket and testing ground systems. 

Over the course of the Artemis-1 mission, Wise County and Norton teacher-mentors and volunteer science advisors will offer student tutorials on space weather, data analytics and graphics, and science applications, all the while boosting local STEM education to new heights, according to L. DeWayne Cecil of the Destination Space Team based in Asheville, North Carolina. 

The Wise County student lunar project has been planned for three years, led by science teacher and the county’s STEM coordinator Jane Carter and Norton science teacher Michael Brooke, with local philanthropic contributions assisting to fund the student instrument aboard the Miles Space CubeSat by Destination Space. (CubeSat are small satellites about the size of a cellphone; the students built them from kits.)

Jane Carter. Courtesy of Jack Kennedy.

Carter, a former aerospace workforce training manger in Marion, confidently says that space science education in southwestern Virginia has been “the perfect way to pull together the different components of STEM education while showing our students that their future is whatever they want it to be.”

Wise County students previously launched their first satellites (ThinSats) to extremely Low Earth Orbit in the spring of 2019 from Wallops Island aboard a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully and de-orbiting days later. (ThinSats are small satellites about the size of a loaf of bread; also built by students from kits.)

Over 100 students from the region have visited the VirginiaSpace commercial launch pads to tour or participate in launch events in recent years. 

Hundreds of Central Appalachian Mountain regional students have experienced over a decade of NASA STEM education events and projects led by the Wise County school district.  
Organized by science educators and school administrators, the projects have ranged from satellite remote sensing project participation, computerized topography modeling, high-powered model rocket builds-to-flying, drone flying, high altitude balloon flights, remote jet air show, space station downlink, a moon rock display, student experiments on the space station, commercial and NASA astronaut appearances, and zero-gravity flights by local teachers, including Carter.  

An estimated 600 students in the Wise, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties are now connected to space-based broadband, being the first education group in the nation to gain SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation service in 2021.

“In 2012 (SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral), and again in 2013, 2014, and 2019 (Antares from Wallops Island) students watched the rockets launch, and the student’s excitement is contagious,” Carter noted, as students to use post-launch sensor data in space science high school studies, including those hosted on the International Space Station. “Now we are on the road to the launch of Artemis and students will once again have a personal interest in the cargo.  The experiences these students are getting are priceless; they are the leaders of our future. These programs have increased their knowledge and confidence while allowing them to truly understand that all things are possible and attainable for them.”

Depending upon NASA’s launch schedule adopted over the next few weeks, Wise County’s Destination Space Team may be in Cape Canaveral for the launch of the most powerful rocket NASA has ever assembled, according to Carter. 

Cosmic forces will likely keep students thinking over the moon at least for the next 36 to 40 months as the first woman and first person of color will make the initial 21st century landing at the lunar South Pole.  

Students are already contemplating how to participate in lunar surface experiments next academic year as several robotic lunar landers or automated rovers will be placed on the moon. 

Jack Kennedy

Jack Kennedy is the clerk of court for Wise County and a former member of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.