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NASA and ESA Astronauts Touch Down In Teesside To Help Students Aim for the Stars

Hundreds of students from across the region took part in a programme to help their STEM careers take off, guided by experts including NASA and ESA astronauts.

Space 2101 is a global educational programme that aims to challenge students and inspire them to embark on a career in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.   

For the first time, the event was held in the Tees Valley, taking place at Teesside University Students’ Union during this half term. There, nearly 500 young people aged between 14 and 18 learned from experts such as NASA astronaut Susan Kilrain, ESA Astronaut Gerhard Thiele, space scientist Dr Michaela Musilova, and other world-renowned educators. 

Students worked with the educators over five days, solving daily problems on topics such as sustainable energy, water and food production, with the ultimate goal of designing a sustainable habitat that could be used in space or on Mars.

At the end of the week, a winning concept was chosen, put together by a team made up of Beatrice Tait, Erika King and Chloe Guppy from Darlington’s Polam Hall, Isabella Tait from the town’s Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College and Chris Millington from Middlesbrough’s Acklam Grange. They have now been entered into a global Space 2101 finale with the prize of being flown to Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to watch a live rocket launch.

The programme was delivered by Starlight Education in partnership with STEM Punks. The Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority sponsored students from Tees Valley schools and colleges who would not have had the opportunity to attend otherwise. Additional local sponsors included FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Bernicia Homes, Northumbrian Water, Coatsink and DNG Ltd.

Commander Susan Kilrain is the first NASA astronaut to visit Teesside, and is a renowned astronaut, a distinguished Navy test pilot, and aerospace engineer. She is also the youngest person, and one of only three women, to pilot the Space Shuttle.

Cmdr Kilrain said: “We’re proud to work alongside the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority and FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies as exemplary industry partners who are committed to growing the region’s economy and to inspire and retain talent in Teesside. 

“Space 2101 is a great learning experience for these Tees Valley children. I’ve really enjoyed coming to Teesside to see these kids in action and helping them gain valuable STEM skills that will set them apart in the future.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “What better way to inspire the next generation of experts in the fields of STEM than to have NASA astronauts touch down in Teesside! Space is an exciting subject of study and this is a great jumping on point to teach them about the wider opportunities and topics covered by STEM.

“As our region continues to lead the way in the cleaner, safer and healthier industries of tomorrow, we need to develop and retain our future talent so they become the innovators and game-changers of the future. It’s never too early to open students’ eyes to the incredible career paths they could have, including right here in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.”

Martin Spencer, Chairman of Starlight Education said: “Coming from Stockton originally, I am humbled and so excited to have bought NASA astronauts and this learning opportunity to the region. Our camps inspire students to reach for the stars and is part of our ambitions to help talented young people reach their potential. Working with partners and local businesses we are committed to giving everyone an equal opportunity to get involved and providing this life-changing experience for young people in the North East.” 

Michael Holmstrom, CEO of STEM Punks, said: “85% of the jobs that will exist in the year 2030 haven’t been invented yet, and it’s likely that they’ll need STEM skills. STEM can be applied across so many industries, from manufacturing to bioscience, engineering and construction, so it’s vital that kids are prepared for a future where they can make a difference in the Tees Valley region where the demand for these much-needed industry skills will only increase over the coming decade.

“Having Susan as part of our Space 2101 programs is a valuable addition to our educational component, bringing real-life experience to the event.”

Paul Found, COO of FUJIFILM from FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, UK site, said: “We are proud to be a supporter of Space 2101. This program fully algins with our goals to be an active promoter of STEM initiatives in the local communities in which we serve. Our STEM mission is to instil curiosity that will lead children from all ages to develop and explore an education in STEM disciplines with an emphasis in Biotechnology. It is also critical to provide educators with alternative tools to complement classroom education that will encourage the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills in children. Space 2101 is a perfect example of this and we are delighted to be playing a role right here in the North East of England.”

Professor Chrisina Jayne, Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies, at Teesside University, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Space 2101 event to our campus and help to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

“The event provided the young people with a valuable insight into the rewarding careers that are available within the STEM industries and we hope to be able to welcome some of them back as future students at Teesside University.”

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