Middle School Students Make History with Space Experiment

Alta Loma Christian School’s SpaceEagles STEM space science and engineering team made history Saturday, June 3, 2017, when its robotics software experiment was launched into space aboard SpaceX mission CRS-11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, enroute to its destination aboard the International Space Station.

The school’s STEM experiment—Orbital Experiment Mission 1 (OEM-1) was created by ALCS middle school students and was carried into orbit inside a Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. In one of several spaceflight milestones, the SpaceX Dragon capsule was the first refurbished space capsule ever to return to space. It also marked the 100th rocket launch from historic Launch Pad 39A, from which Apollo 11 lifted off in 1969 on the first manned mission to the surface of the moon.

SpaceX’s commercial resupply mission CRS-11 lifted off with ALCS OEM-1 robotics software experiment at precisely 2:07 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The launch was viewed at both The Eagle Center for Creativity and Innovation (TECCI) at ALCS and by Eagles throughout the Inland Empire, across the nation, and around the world on summer vacation.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment for our students, our STEM program, and our school,” noted ALCS head of school, Dr. Vance Nichols. “It was an exhilarating moment to watch our kids’ hard work pay off and finally get into space, after several launch delays. We can hardly wait to see how the experiment performs once it’s onboard the ISS and begins sending back data. We’re praising God and thanking Him for a great day.”

The Dragon capsule rendezvous, capture, and grapple by ISS astronauts—Expedition 52 Flight Engineers Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson of NASA—is scheduled for the early morning hours of Monday, June 5 when it arrives at the space station.

ALCS is one of 11 middle schools in the nation participating in the Quest Institute’s Quest for Space Beta ISS Project, partnering with LEGO Education, Microsoft, NanoRacks, and NASA. The Quest Institute for Quality Education is located in the San Jose area near the Silicon Valley.

The SpaceEagles Module launched to the ISS On June 3, 2017


ALCS’ OEM-1 is a software experiment designed to operate robotics aboard the ISS, utilizing the LEGO Mindstorms EV-3 environment combined with Microsoft research and development technology. Along with 10 other select middle school experiments from across the nation, ALCS’ work is being handled by NanoRacks, a commercial space venture that manages specialized educational efforts in space in partnership with NASA and launch providers like SpaceX.

Today’s launch marks the first time in American space history that more than one middle school space science and engineering team has had experiments transported to the ISS, and the first time in U.S. spaceflight that multiple software programs created by middle school students have been carried into orbit.

“This is another student accomplishment that embodies who we are at ALCS, that demonstrates the unique, leading edge Christian education that we continually strive to provide here,” explained Dr. Nichols. “When it comes to our kids, we don’t just teach history. We make history.”

“When many people think of middle schoolers, they don’t always think about them in a good way or in the most positive light possible,” reflected Dr. Nichols. “But middle schoolers have great capacities in many areas, and what our students are able to accomplish makes my mouth drop open in marvel and wonder. They are extraordinary.”

Dr. Nichols, who teaches STEM rocketry at the school to first through third graders, recounted how the school’s student STEM ISS team had an hour-long conversation with two engineers from Boeing, as they tried to diagnose and correct an electrical problem on their experiment’s ground unit.

SpaceEagles use a conference call with Boeing engineers to troubleshoot


“I watched and listened to their video conference call, as our students and the Boeing engineers had this in-depth discussion using space and electrical engineering terms, and no one missed a beat, they were communicating clearly and in an engineering context with each other,” explained Dr. Nichols, who was a 2015 Innovation Scholar at the University of Southern California. “It was amazing.”

Once the experiment is aboard the space station Monday and activated by astronauts, data will begin to be streamed to the Quest for Space facility in northern California and then to the 11 participating schools in the innovative space education project.

ALCS has three sections of its SpaceEagles STEM Space Science and Engineering Program: STEM Rocketry (grades 1-3); Quest for Space Beta ISS Level 1 (grades 4-5), which prepares students to construct experiments for space; and Quest for Space Beta ISS Level 2 (grades 6-8), which creates and delivers experiments for actual transport and utilization in space aboard the ISS.

“In our worldview, God designed us innately to be learners and creators and innovators. It’s what we do as human beings,” explained Dr. Nichols. “When kids are creative, they are a direct reflection of Christ, their Creator. Their imagination is virtually limitless. And God blesses that, because that’s how He’s wired us to learn. And when our kids learn like this, it is a wonderful thing to behold.”

Of the 11 middle school programs in the nation involved in the ISS project, three are located in Southern California: Alta Loma Christian School in Rancho Cucamonga; Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village; and Rancho Christian School in Temecula.

The Quest Institute for Quality Education was founded by Valley Christian Schools of San Jose, considered one of the finest K-12 school systems in the country, in order to develop innovative and collaborative educational partnerships with schools and real-world organizations.

CRS-11 is carrying almost 6,000 pounds of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of Expedition 52 and 53 crew members. The unpressurized trunk of the spacecraft also will transport solar panels, tools for Earth-observation and equipment to study neutron stars. ALCS’ OEM-1 is one of approximately 250 scientific experiments aboard CRS-11.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon reached its preliminary orbit. It then deployed its solar arrays and began a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

The Dragon spacecraft will remain at the space station until approximately July 2, when it will return to Earth with research and return cargo in a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California.

ALCS is now receiving applications from enrolled students for the 2017-2018 STEM program. Click here for more information!