Former Astronauts Talk STEM, Scouting, and the International Space Station

Former astronauts spoke to more than 6,000 students about STEM education. (Photo credit: Kate Jacobs)
Former astronauts spoke to nearly 6,000 students about STEM education. (Photo credit: Kate Jacobs)

Thousands of Chicago-area youths were in for a stellar lesson this Thursday when they learned about space exploration skills straight from extraterrestrial experts.

Close to 6,000 students in the Chicagoland area received first-hand wisdom from 18 retired astronauts as part of the inaugural Mission One Inspiration Day. The school visits took place in coordination with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) – the managers of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory.

The former astronauts discussed how their passion for space drove them to reach for the stars and eventually reach low-Earth orbit. The space explorers told the audience what inspired them to become astronauts, what it’s like to live and work in space, and even shared a few pieces of classic Scouting wisdom.

“You can do anything you want if you prepare for it,” former Astronaut and Captain Winston Scott advised students.

Some students already knew a thing or two about exploring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through Scouting. Several of the schools visited by the former astronauts have active STEM Scout units, which give young people opportunities to explore interests in science-related fields.

Jim Reilly, a former astronaut who was also a Boy Scout, explained how his Scouting experience helped him in his career. “Many of the skills you learn in Scouting are helpful in space.”

Space-Design-Challenge-220x271Part of the role of CASIS is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through STEM education initiatives—a goal they share with BSA’s STEM Scout program. CASIS Executive Director Gregory H. Johnson is in fact, an Eagle Scout, so it made perfect sense for the organizations to team up for an ingenious STEM project.

In 2015, CASIS invited a team of BSA youth members from the Pathway to Adventure Council to send research experiments of their own creation into space! This special team of Scouts, Venturers, and Explorers worked to design and build advanced projects, which are set to launch to the International Space Station’s National Lab in late 2016 or 2017.

Those involved in these projects hope the initiative won’t end at “liftoff.”  The groups aim to establish a long-term project in which Scouts and Explorers continually send payloads to the ISS for experimentation.

On the evening of May 19th, the astronauts attended a gala at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in hopes of raising funds to promote STEM education, in particular through the BSA/CASIS partnership. Individuals in the Chicagoland area were able to meet with the national space heroes, all while supporting STEM opportunities not previously available for young students.

Funds raised at this event will help BSA and CASIS continue the Scout-led projects with the hopes that these creations will be tested in only orbiting laboratory in the universe.

Former NASA astronauts visited 13 Chicago-area schools for Mission One Inspiration Day. (Photo Credit: Kate Jacobs)
Former NASA astronauts visited 13 Chicago-area schools for Mission One Inspiration Day. (Photo Credit: Kate Jacobs)

To learn more about the CASIS and BSA partnership, head to the ISS-CASIS website.

Do you have a knack for Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math? Be sure to check out the STEM Scouts’ official website to find out how you can get involved!

Story credit: Kate Jacobs from the Pathway to Adventure Council


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Rochelle Randles is a communications specialist at the Boy Scouts of America. She enjoys sharing incredible adventure stories within the Scouting community and beyond. If you have story ideas or questions, reach out to us at