'Al the Astronut' to connect local students to International Space Station

Posted: Monday, 01 November 2010

DOTHAN—“Al the Astronut” has gone where no other peanut has gone before, with a mission to help teachers bring lessons on space travel, science and technology to Wiregrass area classrooms.

Troy University’s Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium designed the kid-friendly “astronut” mascot in honor of the National Peanut Festival and worked with NASA officials to have Al transported to the International Space Station this fall.

With the support of astronaut Doug Wheelock, the Consortium has designed a series of lesson plans based on Al’s adventures in space, which are being made available at no cost to local teachers. Wheelock is the current commander aboard the ISS and has worked closely with local schools through the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium.

Designed for students in grades K-8, the lessons will teach students about life aboard the space station, robotics, rocketry and the cultures of the nations represented aboard the station.

Sandy Armstrong, director of the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium, said planning for Al’s voyage has been in the work for nearly a year.

“When we announced NASA support for the Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium last December, we had a live videoconference with Doug Wheelock from Star City, Russia, which is the Russian cosmonaut training site,” Armstrong. “He said then that he wanted to connect as many kids in the area as possible with his mission on the ISS as commander since he has visited in several area schools over the years.”

Armstrong and other Consortium members brainstormed to come up with a simple, easy-to-transport item that would act as a theme for a variety of lessons across multiple curriculums. Al’s design was created by Gayle Nelson, TROY’s eCampus director of Instructional Design and Educational Resources.

“I had been tossing around the idea of ‘Al the Astronut’ since everyone calls me an ‘astronut,’” Armstrong said. “This allowed us to come up with lesson plans that could relate back to what Al is doing while he lives on the ISS.”

The Al mascot arrived aboard the space station in September. The Consortium worked with the Marshall Spaceflight Center and the Teaching from Space Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to arrange for Al to be transported to the station.

A Teaching from Space official with Wiregrass ties was a crucial part of bringing the project to fruition, Armstrong said. Cindy McArthur, who lived in Enterprise and Ozark when her husband (astronaut Bill McArthur) was stationed at Ft. Rucker, helped clear the way for Al to be included on a shipment to the space station

Armstrong said local students will be able to continue their studies about space travel by following Wheelock’s updates on Twitter (twitter.com/astro_wheels) and through a live interview that will air on the Rick and Bubba radio show later in November.

“We even hope to get a glimpse of Al during a video that [Wheelock] will be making for the Rick and Bubba website,” Armstrong said.

Any local teachers who wish to incorporate “Al the Astronut” lessons into their classrooms are asked to contact Armstrong at sgarmstrong@troy.edu.

The Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium is a grant-funded joint venture of TROY's Dothan Campus and local school systems with the goal of increasing student performance in math and science and to provide professional development for area K-12 teachers.

DiChiara

Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium Director Sandy Armstrong, left and Gayle Nelson, eCampus director of Instructional Design and Educational Resources, show off the design for the “Al the Astronut” mascot. A cutout of Al arrived aboard the International Space Station in September in the care of astronaut Doug Wheelock, the current station commander. The Wiregrass Math and Science Consortium has designed a series of lesson plans based on Al’s adventures in space, which are being made available at no cost to local teachers. Designed for students in grades K-8, the lessons will teach students about life aboard the space station, robotics, rocketry and the cultures of the nations represented aboard the station. (TROY photo)