Chalkboard Champion Joseph Acaba: Educator and NASA Astronaut

220px-Joseph_Acaba_v2Many talented educators earn recognition for achievements outside of the classroom. Such is certainly the case of science and math teacher Joseph Michael Acaba, who is also a hydro-geologist and NASA educator astronaut. This chalkboard champion is the first individual of Puerto Rican descent to become a NASA astronaut.

Joe was born on May 17, 1967, in Inglewood, California, where his parents, Ralph and Elsie Acaba, had moved from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, during the 1960s. When he was an elementary student, Joe excelled in both science and math. He enjoyed reading, particularly science fiction stories. He also appreciated educational movies, and credits his interest in space to a film he watched in his boyhood depicting Neil Armstrong’s 1969 landing on the moon. During his senior year in high school, he became interested in scuba diving, and later he became a certified scuba diver through a job-training program at his school. This experience inspired him to further his academic education in the field of geology. In 1985, Joe graduated with honors from Esperanza High School in Anaheim, California.

Joe earned his bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1990, and his master’s degree in geology from the University of Arizona in 1992. Following his graduation, Joe enlisted as a reservist in the US Marine Corps, where he served his country for six years. During this time, Joe worked as a hydro-geologist in Los Angeles, where he was involved in the assessment and remediation of groundwater contaminants. He has also worked for the Caribbean Marine Research in the Bahamas and as a shoreline re-vegetation coordinator in Vero Beach, Florida.

Additionally, Joe spent two years in the Peace Corps, where he trained over 300 teachers in modern teaching methodologies in the Dominican Republic. “Once I did that, I knew that education was what I wanted to do,” Joe said. To fulfill this dream, after leaving the Peace Corps Joe taught one year of high school science and math at Melbourne High School in Melbourne, Florida, and four years of science and math at Dunnellon Middle School in Dunnellon, Florida. Then, in May 2004, the veteran educator was one of three classroom teachers selected by NASA to be a mission specialist. “The only job that could take me away from teaching is being an astronaut,” he explained. “Being an educator astronaut is the best of both worlds.”

In February 2006, Joe completed his astronaut candidate training, which included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training. Upon completion of his training, Joe was assigned to the Hardware Integration Team in the Space Station Branch, working technical issues with European Space Agency hardware.  He was also a member of the Space Shuttle Branch, supporting shuttle launch and landing preparations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Joe’s first space mission was aboard STS-119, which flew from March 15 to March 28, 2009. The task for this mission was to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. Joe performed two space walks during this mission. His second space mission was Expedition 31/32, which was launched on May 15, 2012, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and returned on September 17, 2012.  As a member of the Expedition 31/32 crews, Joe spent 123 days aboard the International Space Station as a flight engineer. The intrepid educator has logged a total of 138 days in space during his two missions.

thJoe once said that, as an educator astronaut, he hoped to reach out to minority students. On March 18, 2008, he traveled to Puerto Rico, where he was honored by the island’s senate. During his visit, Joe met with school children at the capitol and at Science Park located in Bayamon. Science Park boasts a planetarium and several surplus NASA rockets among its exhibits. Joe made a second trip to Puerto Rico on June 1, 2009. On that trip he spent seven days on the island and came into contact with over 10,000 citizens, most of them school children.

Joe is active in several professional organizations. He is a member of the International Technology Education Association, the Florida Association of Science Teachers, and the Association of Space Explorers. During his career, Joe has earned many honors. He has been given the Ana G. Mendez University System Presidential Medal and a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. In addition, Caras Magazine designated Joe as one of the most influential and exciting Puerto Ricans of 2012.

“As an educator,” this chalkboard champion once expounded, “I think the most important thing for me is to fulfill the goal of inspiring the next generation. Motivating kids to learn is as important as the subject matter.”

The Teacher in Space Program Lives On, In Science Teacher Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger

When Christa McAuliffe was selected to be the first Teacher in Space, the educational community was very excited and immensely proud. It was truly a sad day on January 28, 1986, when this gifted and talented educator perished, along with six other astronauts, in the Challenger disaster. But the Teacher in Space program lives on, and other remarkable teachers have been fortunate enough to be a part of it. One such teacher is Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger.

metcalf-dm-thumbnail[1]Dorothy, who prefers to be called Dottie, was born May 2, 1975, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the daughter of two teachers. She graduated from Fort Collins High School in Fort Collins, Colorado. After her high school graduation, she earned her bachelor’s degree in geology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, in 1997, and her teaching certificate from Central Washington University at Ellensburg, Washington, in 1999. That year, she was named the Outstanding Teacher Preparation Candidate at the university.

Dottie was employed for five years as a science teacher at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, where she instructed courses in earth science and astronomy, and also coached the Science Olympiad. An accomplished athlete, Dottie also coached cross country for three years.

It was through her teaching that Dottie became involved in the NASA astronaut program. One day, while educating her students about the Hubble Space Telescope, one of her students asked her how astronauts go to the bathroom in space. To find the answer, Dottie consulted the NASA website, where she found not only the answer, but also an application to become an educator astronaut. Just over a year later, in May, 2004, the gifted educator was selected to be an Astronaut Candidate. To complete the program, Dottie underwent rigorous training that included orientations, briefings, tours, scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in space shuttle and international space station systems, physiological training, flight training, and water and wilderness survival training. Successful completion of this training in February, 2006, qualified her as a NASA astronaut. Dottie then served as a Mission Specialist in April, 2010, on STS-131, a space shuttle mission to the international space station.

In addition to her other skills, Dottie is a talented singer as well. She has been a long-time lead singer with the all-astronaut rock band, “Max Q,” and she sang the National Anthem at the Houston Astros game against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 20, 2009, in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

thumb_SGB_0244E[1]On April 16, 2012, NASA announced that Dottie would command the NEEMO 16 undersea exploration mission aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory, scheduled to begin on June 11, 2012, and last twelve days.The NEEMO 16 crew successfully “splashed down” at 11:05 am on June 11. On the morning of June 12, the former teacher and her crewmates officially became aquanauts, having spent over 24 hours underwater.The crew safely returned to the surface on June 22.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger. The Teacher in Space program lives on in her.

Chalkboard Champion Ricky Arnold: The Astronaut and Aquanaut

 A 3068A very unique group of American educators are teachers who have also become astronauts. One such teacher is Ricky Arnold, a science teacher from Maryland.

Richard Robert “Ricky” Arnold II was born November 26, 1963 in Cheverly, Maryland. He was raised in Bowie, Maryland. In 1985, Ricky earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Frostburg State University in Maryland. He completed the requirements for his teaching certification from Frostburg in 1988, and earned his master’s degree in marine, estuarine, and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland in 1992.

In 1987, Ricky began working at the United States Naval Academy as an oceanographic technician. After earning his teaching credential, he accepted a position as a science teacher at John Hanson Middle School in Waldorf, Mayland. In 1993, Ricky joined the faculty at the Casablanca American School in Casablanca, Morocco, where he instructed courses in college preparatory biology and marine environmental science. While there, the gifted educator began presenting workshops at various international education conferences focusing on science teaching methodologies. In 1996, Ricky and his family moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he was employed as a middle and high school science teacher at the American International School. Before long, Ricky was hired by International Schools Services to teach middle school mathematics and science at the International Schools in Kuala Kencana, in West Papua, Indonesia, and in Bucharest, Romania.

4e712e592af12.image[1][1]Ricky was selected as a Mission Specialist Educator by NASA in May, 2004. After becoming an astronaut, he flew on space shuttle mission STS-119, which was launched on March 15, 2009. On this fourteen-day mission, this remarkable educator-astronaut delivered the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. He completed two space walks. Not content to end his career in space, in August, 2007, Ricky served as an aquanaut during the NEEMO 13 project, an exploration research missino held in Aquarius, the world’s ponly existing undersea research laboratory.


Remembering Christa McAuliffe: The First Teacher in Space

$ROLQWTAWithout a doubt, one of the saddest days of my teaching career was the day our nation lost the first educator to go into space, New Hampshire history teacher Christa McAuliffe. Fairly new to the profession, I was so proud that a fellow teacher had been selected as the first civilian in space, and a little star-struck by the professionalism, intelligence, and infectious enthusiasm of the chosen candidate, selected from among 11,000 other highly-qualified applicants.
While on her mission, Christa planned to write a journal of her experiences as an astronaut from the perspective that even an ordinary citizen can take center stage in the making of history. She was to have been the perfect example of that. Additionally, she was scheduled to perform lessons and simple scientific experiments aboard the space shuttle which would be viewed by students in classrooms all over America.
Tragically, Christa was one of seven astronauts killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, just 73 seconds after lift-off. The journal she never got to finish was replaced by A Journal for Christa: Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space, written by Grace George Corrigan, Christa’s grief-stricken mother. The book is a tender tribute to an extraordinary teacher.A Journal for Christa can be ordered form amazon. I have also included a chapter about Christa McAuliffe in the book I am currently writing, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes.

Chalkboard Champion Barbara Morgan: Another Teacher in Space

224af0a0-e295-4c41-88c5-ea08c7c63c04[1]Educator Barbara Morgan is probably best-known for being named as Christa McAuliffe’s alternate for the Teacher in Space Program in 1985. Following Christa’s untimely death in the space shuttle Challenger explosion, Barbara continued her training as an astronaut. She became a mission specialist, becoming a full-time astronaut in 1998, and flew into space in 2007, completing an assignment aboard the International Space Station.

Barbara was born in Fresno, California, in 1951. She graduated from Stanford University in 1973 with her degree in human biology, and earned her teaching credential in 1974 from Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California. She began her career in education as a remedial reading and math teacher at Arlee Elementary School located on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Arlee, Montana. She has also been a teacher of second, third, and fourth graders at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.

Barbara Morgan is truly a chalkboard champion. You can read a more about the Teacher in Space program when my new book, tentatively entitled Chalkboard Heroes, is published.