Space: The ultimate education disrupter

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Space is the third — and newest — disrupter in the last 156 years of education. Not since the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 and the rise of America’s land-grant colleges has there been a movement this massive. Not since the enactment of the G.I. Bill in 1944 has there been a milestone this memorable.

The first two events represent greater access to education, while the third and final achievement—with its emphasis on exploring the final frontier of space—is the most stellar accomplishment of all. It is also the most democratic (lowercase D) phenomenon of its kind, thanks as much to the laws of economics as the laws of physics. Thanks as much, too, to Moore’s Law about an exponential increase in the power of computing and a corresponding decrease in the cost of computer technology.

Carie Lemack, co-founder and CEO of DreamUp. Credit: DreamUp
Carie Lemack, co-founder and CEO of DreamUp. Credit: DreamUp

Or: If you want to disrupt a $1.3 trillion industry, you need to dramatize the situation. What, then, is more dramatic than the chance not just to record history but to make it? What is a more potent agent of change than the agents of change themselves, from a multitude of schools and a diversity of schools of thought?

Consider the example of Joseph Tiberi.

An aerospace engineering student at Purdue University, a land-grant institution, Tiberi sees the sky neither as a limit to what he can dream nor as a limitation against what he can do. Not when he can convert his research into reality. Not when the region of the few is now the realm of the many. Not when there is a through-line from the establishment of his school to the ultimate schoolroom of space.

Follow that line from the founding of Purdue in 1869 as a school of agriculture to its status as the alma mater of 24 astronauts, whose ranks include Neil Armstrong and Virgil “Gus” Grissom and a trio of very impressive women. Each person on that line symbolizes a point of disruption, from being the first man to walk on the Moon to being one of several women to follow in the footsteps of the first American woman in space.

Factor in the broader disruptions in civil rights and human rights, and the Space Age goes from a snapshot of the monoculture to a signpost of our multicultural present and future. Factor in, also, the disruption from farms to factories, and the shift in education is huge. And yet, our schools perpetuate the programs of the past—they stress the importance of the Industrial Age—despite the urgency of the Information Age.

Hence the ongoing disruption in school curricula, from elementary school and high school to college and graduate school, where teachers and students can connect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with the wonders of space.

By empowering teachers to adopt this curriculum, and by encouraging students to see their experiments pierce the sky and reach the heavens, we have the opportunity to modernize our schools by disrupting the outdated materials of most schools.

The time is here — and the timing is worthy of a national hearing — for this disruption to happen.

Now is the time to substitute our dreams with deeds, so we may fulfill our dreams in and about space.

Carie Lemack is the co-founder and CEO of DreamUp, the first company bringing space into classrooms and classrooms into space. Her leadership is one of the chief reasons DreamUp has launched over 350 experiments to the International Space Station. A former national security policy expert/advocate and producer of an Academy Award-Nominated film, Carie is a proud alumna of Space Camp and supporter of all space cadets reaching for the stars.