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On Friday, March 4, the Gifford Youth Achievement Center (GYAC) received word from NASA they had been hoping would come for months. The email from NASA In-Flight Education Downlinks read, “Congratulations! Gifford Youth Center is scheduled for an In-flight Education Downlink during International Space Station Expedition 67.”

“We are honored to have been selected by NASA to participate in Expedition 67. This once in a lifetime experience will be a steppingstone for GYAC students to become future STEM leaders and will no doubt inspire them to reach for the stars,” remarked Angelia Perry, GYAC’s Executive Director.

In-flight education downlinks are opportunities for students and educators to interact with astronauts aboard the International Space Station during a live, 20-minute question-and-answer session. Downlinks allow students to hear and see the crewmembers live from space.

During the November 16, 2021 Indian River County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the Board unanimously approved GYAC’s request to write letters of support to accompany GYAC’s proposal. “This Downlinks program would allow GYAC students to ask questions directly to the astronauts and would be an exceptional learning experience,” stated Peter O’Bryan, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.  In addition, the Board approved the deployment of their IT staff to assist GYAC with technical support if needed.

One month later GYAC submitted a proposal to formally apply for NASA’s highly competitive downlink experience. Letters of support from Margaret Ingram, former 1988 Florida Teacher of the Year, Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education and CEO of the Science Institute of Discovery; Austin Jordan, Vice-President of Marketing and Communications at RedWire Space; and Indian River County’s Board of County Commissioners accompanied the proposal.

Because flight operations and crew member schedules are fluid, GYAC is tentatively scheduled for a downlink on July 6, 2022.  Videos and astronaut responses will broadcast live on NASA TV and stream live on the NASA website at www.nasa.gov/nasatv.

Planning for the big day has officially commenced and will include a “Living in Space, Preparing on Earth” science fair, where students will create their own science projects that match the theme of the fair. State and local elected officials will be invited and representatives from aerospace companies including L3 Harris, RedWire Space and Lockheed Martin will be present to engage with and inspire students.

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