Out of This World

Launch a satellite or meet an astronaut at these high schools.

Bishop O’Connell High School

Photo by Thomas Howard / courtesy of Bishop O’Connell High School

“My favorite way to inspire kids is to inspire myself,” says Melissa Pore, a science teacher and the sponsor of Bishop O’Connell High School’s engineering club in Arlington. And inspire them she did, by leading the club’s year-long project to build a satellite through Virginia Space’s ThinSat program. 

Small ThinSat satellites piggyback onto larger rocket launches as part of space station resupply missions, so students are guaranteed to see their satellites launch. Bishop O’Connell named its satellite DJO SpaceToast, because this type of satellite is about the size and shape of a piece of toast. “Sixty-three little satellites launched with our unit, and it was so exciting!” says Pore of the launch her students observed at Wallops Space Station. Because of Pore’s enthusiasm, the engineering club’s membership has shot up from 12 members to between 40 and 50 students in the last two years.

More than 30 Virginia schools participated in Virginia Space’s ThinSat program this year, including The Steward School in Richmond. Laura Akesson, a science teacher whose students participated and were present at the ThinSat launch, says her students plan to use the data from their satellite to create an image of color and light that reflects its path. 

Students also haven’t forgotten the foundations of space exploration. Dr. Robert Moses, a student research directorate and mentor at New Horizons Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, guided two students through a research project to plan for a human habitation on Mars that could be built entirely by robots without requiring humans to be present for the construction. In January, students Noah Wiggins and Brian Chou participated in a Skype chat with legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin as part of their research. 


For more about Bishop O’Connell High School, The Steward School, or New Horizons Governor’s School, check out Top High Schools and Colleges 2019. This article originally appeared in our October 2019 issue.

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