Inclusion in action

Inspiration and inclusion: encouraging future pioneers in STEM and space travel

Microsoft is teaming up with NASA to help ensure that pathways to new opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math are open to all.

On March 2nd, in honor of Women’s History Month, astronauts aboard the International Space Station answered questions from students via a live In-Flight Education Downlink. In particular, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir—who recently made history as one half of the first all-woman spacewalk—was on hand for a Q&A about living and working in space.

Below, watch the event, hosted by NASA’s STEM on Station team in partnership with Microsoft Education, which took place at The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

2020 is a critical milestone for STEM, space travel, and inclusion. It marks 20 years of humans living and working continuously aboard the International Space Station. It means a generation of youth who’ve grown up in a time when humans live on Earth and in space. And as STEM jobs grow to over 9 million by 2022, it is also a critical time to encourage our youth to explore exciting and empowering career paths.

Currently, there’s a STEM gap—that is, a lack of women and minorities on the pathway to careers in STEM. The good news is that there are 20 million young people of color in the US with the potential to close these gaps, and an opportunity to tap into the 58% of women who count themselves out of STEM jobs altogether by the chance they’re in college. As we forge new frontiers in space travel and STEM, how can we ensure these opportunities are not only accessible to all, but also ignite passion and curiosity among young women and people of color?

For Jessica Meir, becoming an astronaut was a lifelong dream that began in childhood. It took her decades of hard work, perseverance, and even rejection before she fulfilled that dream in 2013, becoming one of eight astronaut candidates selected from over 6,000 applicants. She hopes her journey can serve as an example for other young people who are passionate about STEM.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir waters plants on the space station

"If I can inspire a child to do something—to look at the world a little bit differently, to delve into a scientific question—anything that sparks their imagination, then that is an honor."

- Jessica Meir

To help foster that passion, NASA’s STEM on Station team has partnered with Microsoft’s Hacking STEM team to develop a hands-on STEM curriculum for middle and high school students based on real-life scenarios in space. And now, they’re empowering students by co-hosting the event at Seattle’s Museum of Flight that gives them the rare opportunity to take part in a live conversation with an astronaut via a downlink connection from the International Space Station.

Two Middle school girls in a classroom, girl on the left is sitting and has a breadboard tapped to the top of her foot as the girl to the right applies pressure sensors to the top of her sock. Photo credit: Photo by Josef Reinke for Microsoft

Solve a real-world problem from life in space

Leading up to the In-flight Education Downlink, students are invited to tackle the Astro Socks Design Challenge in their classrooms, which tasks them to design mitigation prototypes in the form of socks that protect astronauts’ feet from microgravity.

The challenge comes from a collection of middle and high school lessons developed by Microsoft Education in partnership with NASA about living and working in space.

The hope is that as space travel and the space economy gain momentum, hands-on programs and learning opportunities like this will motivate and inspire today’s youth to break through boundaries as they participate in this exhilarating era of human existence.

An astronaut in orbit floating near the International Space Station wearing a white EVA suit waves hello to the camera.