Monday, March 28, 2011

Students Get Fit the Astronaut Way

When you think of NASA, likely you picture the space shuttle, the International Space Station, or have images of planets and galaxies flashing before your mind's eye. NASA's Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut, however, focuses a little closer to home. Working with the schools in our very own neighborhoods and around the world, Mission X uses the same skills used to train astronauts to motivate physical education for around 3,700 students in 40 cities around the globe.

The brainchild of the International Space Life Science Working Group or ISLSWG and the Human Research Program Education and Outreach or HRPEO, Mission X launched in U.S. schools on Jan. 18, 2010. NASA's Human Research Program funded the pilot program, including activity and educational modules and an interactive Website ( The program is available in six different languages for participants in 10 countries -- U.S., Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Columbia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The goal of the program is to make kinesiology and nutrition fun for children by encouraging them to train like an astronaut.

Chuck Lloyd, the NASA program manager responsible for the project, comments on how the space program excites students, prompting active participation. "Mission X is all about inspiring and educating our youth about living a healthy lifestyle with a focus on improving their overall daily physical activity with the Mission X physical activities, known as train-like-an-astronaut."

Students aging from 8- to 12-years-old learn about the science behind their activities, including the importance of hydration, bone health, and balanced nutrition. Known as "fit explorers," these youth stay motivated with fun ways to gauge their success. For instance, they can see what other schools are doing on the Train Like An Astronaut blog. Fit explorers logged their accumulated activity points over the course of the program to help an online cartoon astronaut, known as Flat Charlie, walk to the moon.. Flat Charlie made the moon five weeks in to the competition -- a distance of 238,857 miles (384,403 km) or 478 million steps -- and he's still going!

Fit explorers learn that astronauts train before, during, and after missions to maintain top physical health via good nutrition, rest, and physical activity habits in order to function in the demanding environment of microgravity. Lloyd makes the connection of such health-centric mindsets for everyone, even those not planning to launch into space. "Our youth must also make smart choices on balancing the amount of work, play, and sleep they get to remain in peak performance. Education is critical to our youth and to our communities to ensure we have tomorrow's workforce and technical leadership to address the rigors of our societies."

The challenge, which lasts for six weeks, has schools participating with each other within their own countries in a friendly competition. Each school makes up a single team that collects points based on teamwork, space application, activity completion, and fun. Prizes, including a Mission X dog-tag, will be awarded at closing events. The U.S. closing event, titled Fit Explorer Hometown Hullaballoo, is sponsored by College Station ISD and will take place on March 24, 2011, in Tiger Stadium, College Station, Texas.

For more information visit
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