NOTE TO EDITORS: Local reporters are invited to cover the visit to NASA Ames Research Center by a group of Indiana high school students, six of whom are deaf. The students and their science teachers will be at Ames for a week-long, hands-on field trip beginning June 11. To reach Ames, take Highway 101 to the Moffett Field exit. Proceed to the main gate. Stop at Visitor Badging, to the right of the main gate, and receive a visitor badge and a map with directions. Non-U.S. citizens must bring passports and press identification and will be escorted at all times.

Deaf students and their hearing counterparts from two Indiana high schools will take part in a hands-on science and technology learning experience next week at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The twelve students and two teachers will visit Ames, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, as part of an annual experiential field trip that uses the study of space as a motivational learning tool. An anonymous benefactor has provided funding for the trip.

“These unique, hands-on field trips bring exciting, relevant space exploration learning experiences to students in Indiana,” said Bonnie McClain, NASA’s life sciences outreach projects manager. “These experiences also allow students to relate science concepts learned in the classroom to real-world applications.”

The group will include six students from the Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD) in Indianapolis and six from the Indian Creek High School in Trafalgar, IN. “We want to demonstrate that science can be a common bond that unites students in learning, and that transcends all boundaries and barriers,” said ISD science teacher Teresa Huckleberry. The Indian Creek High School students, led by science teacher Carol Piety, have been studying American Sign Language so they can communicate with the deaf students. The two groups also have participated in several joint science projects.

The theme of this year’s field trip is “Adapting to Unique Environments.” Activities at Ames will highlight the role of sensory systems such as sight, hearing and touch, and the use of technology, in helping humans adapt to unique environments such as space. Students and their teachers will learn first-hand how NASA research into the fundamental processes of the sensory system helps scientists understand how the human body perceives and adapts to different environments, and why this is important to space exploration.

Ames scientists also will help the students realize how technology can be used to “extend” the senses. NASA research in advanced technologies is finding applications in remote sensing, accurate communication of information in varied forms to multiple locations, and the direction of medical procedures from locations far from the patient.

“Deaf students depend on technology to open windows of knowledge and networks of communication for them that would not be possible otherwise,” Huckleberry said. “All the students will learn about how technology can increase the ability to erase boundaries of physical limitations and provide ways to express emotions in new ways.” Technology also can transcend the boundaries of a “culturally normal” way of thinking and open minds to new viewpoints, added Piety.

Student activities June 11 and 12 will focus on space life sciences at Ames. Students will learn about how sensory systems adapt to new environments, how visual perception changes in space and experience a working fundamental biology laboratory. On June 14, they will visit Ames’ flight simulators and learn about remote-sensing technology. Activities on June 15 will focus on the International Space Station and astrobiology.

The students also will spend a day scuba diving in Monterey Bay, experiencing for themselves one of Earth’s “unique environments,” to which all divers’ sensory systems must adapt. Huckleberry noted that achieving their open-water dive certification helped the students better understand differences between Earth’s gravity and the microgravity of space. NASA astronauts typically train underwater for as many as 10 hours in preparation for each hour of their spacewalks.

McClain said the students are looking forward to an exciting experience at Ames, and to serving as role models for other students. “A primary goal of this project is to reach other students with the message that all students, regardless of any self-thought, physical or socially-perceived limitations, can learn,” said McClain. “By using space biology as a motivational tool, boundaries can be erased and high aspirations can be set and achieved.”