A "KLASS" Act: the Kennedy Launch Academy Simulation System

from Educators' eZine

Morgan looks over her team of eleven students and asks herself: "Do they know their jobs? Are they ready? Can they really launch the Space Shuttle?" Then she asks herself for the umpteenth time, "How did a sixth-grade student become the leader of mission control with the lives of the astronauts in her hands?"It 10:30 AM, Monday January 22, 2007. We have a launch window of 30 minutes with a video uplink of our Launch Control Room. The Shuttle with the Astronauts on board is sitting on the firing pad at Kennedy Space Center. The countdown begins.

Welcome to KLASS (Kennedy Launch Academy Simulation System), designed to provide middle school students with the opportunity to perform the same jobs and mission requirements as NASA's launch team in a real-world simulation. Success means a safe launch or knowing when it is best to scrub the launch for the safety of the crew.

Morgan is responsible for seeing that her team is up to the job. She has only one chance to complete this mission, so she checks and double checks. With her team she goes over the launch requirements one more time, probing to make certain they know what to do in response to a variety of situations that make a launch a "go" or "no go," the million-plus dollars it costs to launch always in the back of her mind. (Morgan calculates this into 500,000 lunches.)

Fort Caroline Middle School's Dolphin Team is the first group of students to get NASA's Launch Simulator up and running. Fort Caroline Middle School (FCMS) is a neighborhood school in Arlington and the only school in the world to install successfully and to run a full NASA Space Shuttle Launch. Acquiring the resources and installing the teacher station and workstations took the cooperation of teachers, parents, community businesses, and students. Neighborhood teamwork has launched FCMS into space in a successful mission to integrate reading, math, and science.

Morgan sits back in her chair as her teammates take their position behind computer consoles. She feels the tension and excitement filling the room. The countdown continues as students glimpse the vision of success that comes from working hard and collaborating toward a common goal.

During the summer of 2006 Bill Moredock and I participated in Florida's SIFT, for Summer Industrial Fellowships for Teachers program, by working for NASA at Kennedy Space Center. We worked with Theresa Martinez Schroeder, Education Technology Project Manager, assisting in the design and promotion of NASA's Kennedy Launch Academy Student Simulation Project, or KLASS. A sixth grade mathematics teacher, Bill worked on the main engine display and the teacher and student support materials, while I, a Standards Coach and former science teacher, designed the weather display and the teacher and student support materials, as well as aligning the project with National Science, Math, and Technology Standards. The KLASS simulation requires one teacher station using a Linux operating system and four student stations. The teacher can introduce a variety of main engine, bio-med, or weather "launch "problems that students have to solve in order to successfully "launch" the space shuttle.

After working all summer on the project, Bill and I planned to implement KLASS at Fort Caroline Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida with Bill's sixth grade students. Fort Caroline Middle School is a neighborhood school in a district that supports magnet schools. As a result, neighborhood schools lose many high-achieving students to the magnet programs. Fifty-one percent of Fort Caroline's students are economically disadvantaged and, as an English as a Second Language Center, eleven percent speak limited English. ESL students come from thirty-five different countries and speak Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, French, Creole, and Russian among many other languages. Bill's team, the Dolphin Team is an ESL team.

Bill and Alex Manolis are both members of the sixth grade Dolphin Team at Fort Caroline. Alex teaches science. Bill, Alex, and I looked forward to the opportunity to integrate a standards-based math and science curriculum using the KLASS project. We saw KLASS as a program that is not only motivating and stimulating for students, but also one that could induce students to stay at Fort Caroline. Little did we comprehend the hurdles ahead!

Software and Hardware Problems

The September release date for the KLASS simulation came and went as problems arose with the software development. In October Bill, Alex, and I learned that KLASS would not be ready for release and full implementation in the near future. Since, the students were already excited about being part of a shuttle launch, I called Theresa at NASA to see if it was possible to beta test the software rather than waiting for a full implementation. Theresa was excited about a beta test and promised to send the software as soon as the developers had a working version. Bill, Alex, and I crossed our fingers that the working version would be ready soon.

In the meantime, Bill and Alex, both second-career teachers with technology industry backgrounds, tackled the platform problem. KLASS's teacher station runs on a Linux platform and the school district prohibits Linux installation on the district's computers. To prepare for the simulation, Bill and Alex realized that they needed to create their own networked lab for KLASS. Using an empty classroom for lab space, they began the task of acquiring computers. At the Dolphin Team Parent's Night, Bill and Alex introduced KLASS and computer lab concept to parents to solicit their help in getting furniture and equipment. Parent's Night was a resounding success! Parents gladly donated computers, tables for the computers, rolling chairs and peripherals for the team lab. While Bill and Alex created the necessary classroom environment and parent support, I worked behind the scenes. She and principal Kathy Kassees developed plans around new ideas and practices such as looping and flexible team scheduling for curriculum integration. I continued to be the "squeaky wheel" by staying in constant communication with Theresa about the progress in KLASS software development.

Finally, the day before the Christmas holidays, the beta-test version of KLASS arrived at Fort Caroline. Bill and I used the holidays to reflect and to discuss the KLASS implementation. There was a lot to think about, as students returned to school on January 7, just nineteen days before a planned presentation at the Florida Educational Technology Conference, FETC. I used my coaching skills of asking questions playing the devil's advocate for what can really happen in the school setting, as Bill played with ideas and plans. At the end of the holidays, Bill had a plan that he thought would work.


On January 5, 2007, the first teacher planning day of the New Year, Bill and Alex begin installing the software. Here is the series of events in Bill's words,

"Major problems arise - our Win 98 computers cannot run the program. I Email the NASA software developers and am told to increase the working memory to 128megs. We strip memory from old machines, but still no go. Thanks to Slade Richardson, a Jacksonville businessman who gives us 3 Win XP Dell computers, we now have a computer to load Linux. Now we only need 8 to 20 computers that have win 2000 or XP, the parent donated computers are resources but don't have 2000 or XP. We beg and borrow from other teacher's who are not using their classroom computers. Once we have enough computers, we install the student workstations. We install LINUX. We load it again. The computer we get LINUX to work on has a bad network card, which is part of the motherboard. We install LINUX again on another machine. We screw up and install the server software not the workstation software: XP disappears. We reinstall XP. Then we reinstall LINUX. Now we need a 16 + port switch since we are not allowed to use the School Board's network. More phone calls -more begging. Finally we get a switch. We try to install the teacher's workstation, only to discover that you need to be a programmer in LINUX to do this. The instructions say 1s -1a sim* . We type it in and we get ‘bad command.' Maybe it's ls –la sim*, type it in - still it's a 'bad command.' Every step requires multiple tries with minimal success. There is not enough time. We need to be in the classroom. Stephanie covers classes as we give it a final try with a call to the NASA developers, Chuck Lostrocio and Gerry Stahl. Homerun – after three calls and 2 dead cell phones from3 + hours of talking, we are finally up and running!"

Launch (Kind of)

January 22, 2007 — WE LAUNCH!! In order for Bill and Alex to have a free day to devote to the launch, the principal provides substitutes for their classrooms. They chose a select group of students to be the team of NASA launch experts and prepared them for this initial countdown to launch. At 9:30 AM the launch team boots up the computers. Bill hooks up the laptop to run the video. The laptop goes to sleep. Fixing this problem, Bill discovers that the videos are AVIs, which do not play through s-video from the laptops. So Bill and Alex find a projector; but now the laptop RGB output only shows computer background. To make matters worse, the work stations quit responding to the teacher stations, so the team reboots computers only to find that there is still no networking. The team starts checking all the wiring only to discover that it seems that you cannot have one switch connected to another switch. During this time, I is able to work with students on the weather screens to find out what is working, what they know and understand, and what needs to change to make this a successful weather display and problem-solving activity. Eventually, Bill and Alex find that the solution is to take one student workstation off line and add the video control in its place.

  • At 2:25 PM the team reboots the computers, again. This time everything comes up.
  • At 3:30 PM the shuttle is launched successfully. Every thing is going well, then… just before the orbiter drops the External tank the audio track hang-ups with a female voice repeating, "Right –right – right – right...." After a minute of listening to the glitch the audio is shut down and the team discusses what is happening.
  • At 3:55 PM, the team achieves success as students ask, "Mr. Moredock did we really just launch the shuttle?"
  • At 4:15 the bell rings to end the school day and students don't want to leave. They want to launch the shuttle again!
  • We know that this has been a successful launch. You always want to leave your audience asking for more!

What The Students Learned:

Skills that the students learned were:

  • how to read and apply the information from the support materials to the computer display screens.
  • how to monitor radar screens for predicting rain and lightning at the launch pad
  • how to read and understand the problems on the main engine and weather screens
  • how to monitor the math and science problems on their launch worksheets.

In addition hey calculated fuel levels, distance-rate-and-time math problems, metric conversions, and wind direction and speed.

But far more important they learned what it takes to work together as a team for a common goal. From trouble-shooting computers to solving on-the-spot problems, students learned the meaning of patience and persistence. From the first day of school, Mr. Moredock told them that they would be launching a space shuttle. As problems arose, students saw the adults-teachers, parents, and administrators work together to surmount problems of space, hardware, software, networking and furniture. The day of the launch, students worked with teachers to solve the real-world problems associated with the software talking to the hardware. These are problems that will continue to confront them as they grow and become part of the Twenty-first Century world of work. Learning to set a goal then working toward reaching the goal is a life-long lesson that cannot be taught with paper and pencil or even technology. Itt is a lesson that can only be modeled and emulated consistently over time.

Lessons Learned

Absolutely, it takes a village to launch a shuttle! This project could not be replicated easily in other classrooms. It took the unique expertise of the educators to get the materials, permissions, time, and software installation necessary to use KLASS. All of these lessons learned are being used by NASA to make it an easier package to implement. KLASS is a program better used by Challenger Centers, museums or other specialized educational environments. We learned to work harder and to press the limits further. We learned that students can actually believe a simulation is a real launch. We learned that education is exciting when it is real.

Bill and Alex intend to run all of the science classes through the lab before the end of the year and plan to use the program to review science concepts for FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test) Science testing as a painless and highly effective review of sixth grade concepts that eighth-grade students taking the Science FCAT have forgotten.

Email:Stephanie Stevenson