Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech

Kealakehe selected for student lunar flight experiment

Kealakehe High School moon RIDERS. (Photo courtesy of PISCES)

Kealakehe High School moon RIDERS. (Photo courtesy of PISCES)


When state legislators provided funding for the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), a Hilo-based state government aerospace agency under the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), they hoped the education arm of the entity would encourage Hawaii’s students to shoot for the moon.

Little did they expect that goal to be taken literally. But a partnership between PISCES and NASA will task students from Honolulu’s Iolani School and the Big Island’s Kealakehe High School to design and operate an experiment on the surface on the moon by the end of 2016.

The experiment involves electrodynamic dust shield technology and the selected Hawaii students will be mentored by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The project came about through an agreement with PISCES and NASA to work on a Hawaii high school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) project.

“It’s exciting that, out of all the public high schools in the State, Kealakehe was chosen for this. It really reflects on the students’ hard work and achievements through the years, especially the robotics team,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen (Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa, Honokohau). “I—and I’m sure everyone on the Big Island—take great pride in this amazing opportunity they have earned. I can’t wait to watch the project unfold.”

“I am impressed and overjoyed by the selection of students from Iolani School to take part in this outstanding project,” added Rep. Chris Lee (Kailua, Waimanalo), a graduate of Iolani School. “My enthusiastic congratulations to all of the students who will take part in this great adventure, as well as their teachers and parents.”

“To have Hawaii students involved in such a project with NASA is amazing and wonderful, and speaks to the level of talent and creativity we have among our young folks,” said Rep. Scott Nishimoto (Kapahulu, McCully, Moiliili). “It makes me very optimistic about the future of this state.”

The dust shield experiment is the culmination of years of NASA research and development. The technology repels and removes planetary dust, which collects on surfaces like solar panels and space hardware, by using a high-voltage, low-current device.

The technology has been tested extensively on earth, but has yet to be test in space or on the surface of the moon.


PISCES has announced the two participating Hawaii high schools selected for the Moon RIDERS (Research Investigating Dust Expulsion Removal Systems) student lunar flight experiment during a dual-location press conference on Oahu and Hawaii Island.

Kealakehe High School and Iolani School have been selected in the unprecedented STEM project partnering PISCES with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to involve students in a real-life lunar flight experiment that will be flown to the surface of the Moon.

The press event included messages from Hawaii’s Governor and U.S. congressional leaders, as well as presentations by NASA Swamp Works, educational leaders, and participating students.

Gov. David Ige opened the conference with a brief video congratulating students from the chosen schools.

“This is a first, and I am extremely proud of the Iolani and Kealakehe high school students who have been selected to send their science experiments to the surface of the moon,” Ige said.

He called the partnership significant for workforce development, adding, “It’s an example of a successful collaboration between public, private, commercial, state, and federal sectors to make a project of this magnitude possible for our students.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also shared a video message at the event, lauding the Moon RIDERS effort as a STEM initiative promoting technological education and training.

The keynote speakers at the press conference included PISCES Executive Director Rob Kelso, Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi, Kealakehe Principal Wilfred Murakami, and Iolani Head of School Dr. Timothy Cottrell.

Other Hawaii representatives from the U.S. Congress submitted letters of congratulations and support, including Sen. Brian Schatz., Sen. Mazie Hirono, and Rep. Mark Takai.

Dr. Carlos Calle of NASA’s Swamp Works at Kennedy Space Center, the chief scientist behind the EDS (electrodynamic dust shield) technology the students are testing explained the system’s significance and inner-workings, as well as the benefit for space exploration the students work will have.

Matayoshi called the recognition of a student lunar flight experiment a “chicken-skin moment.”

“We are excited to collaborate with PISCES, NASA, and Iolani School to create an invaluable learning experience for Hawaii’s students. Kealakehe High’s students already do great work in science and technology. This takes them to a whole new level of hands-on learning and collaboration,” she said.

“One of the things that this project exemplifies is that science is fascinating to students when they can do it. Not necessarily when they just read it on a book. You’ve got to see it, feel it, and be able to work with it, and then it comes alive. And I think that’s what this experiment does,” said Matayoshi.

Kealakehe Principal Wilfred Murakami thanked Matayoshi for her nomination.

“It was because of her nomination that we are a part of the project. What a great day for education… here in the state of Hawaii today,” he said.

“This is a fantastic, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our kids. Iolani chose to participate for a number of reasons but, first and foremost for our kids. This is exactly what we’re always looking for. We want real, authentic problems that our kids can tackle. This fit the bill and they’ve done a magnificent job on the project,” added Dr. Timothy Cottrell, Head of School at Iolani.

“With access to cutting edge technology, students of all ages are becoming complex and creative thinkers inspired to apply classroom knowledge to real world issues,” he said. “The PISCES project is an extraordinary, innovative learning opportunity for students to gain the hands-on experience, technological skills and access to a culture of collaboration that is essential to 21st century learning.”

Josiah Clark, student project leader for Kealakehe, said he hoped the project would stimulate discussions in STEM education and the role space exploration should play in society.

“If you care about education and workforce development, you should care about space exploration. Moon RIDERS breaks this mold of classroom learning requiring high technical skill, unrelenting perseverance, and a little bit of crazy – a prerequisite for all great things,” Clark said.

“Moon RIDERS is a step toward engaging the younger generation to seek out the unknown, and hoping that they find a solution in the answer,” said Veronica Shei, student project lead for Iolani School.

Students will be running their first series of pre-flight testing for the experiment beginning in March 2015, in preparation for the anticipated late 2016 launch date. The tests will be conducted at a PISCES planetary analogue test site on Hawaii Island.

The dust shield experiment is the culmination of many years of NASA research and development. The technology repels and removes planetary dust, which collects on surfaces like solar panels and space hardware, by using a high voltage, low current device. This technology has been tested extensively on earth, and even in low gravity flights, but has not yet been tested in space or on the Moon.

“NASA’s technology could solve the dust problem in space and this lunar flight experiment will be the first time the dust shield is tested outside of the laboratory,” said Rob Kelso, executive director of PISCES. “Not only will students gain real-world aerospace engineering experience, but the design and test data they’ll be gathering could be used in future space missions. This is an exemplary project that promotes STEM education and covers multiple disciplines with a core curriculum in physics, geology, chemistry, soil mechanics, space weather, astronomy, and creative engineering design, as well as offers a crucial educational element that is often overlooked in traditional curricula: Systems Engineering.”

PISCES is a Hilo-based Hawaii state government aerospace agency, placed under the State Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT). The Center develops and tests planetary surface system technologies for use on the Moon and Mars, and tests these systems on Hawaii’s volcanic terrain under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Established in 1997, Kealakehe High serves about 1,600 students living in diverse communities spanning 50 miles in West Hawaii. As the largest public high school on Hawaii Island, Kealakehe High places a strong emphasis on citizenship and has identified three main values: building relationships, showing respect, and being responsible to self and the community.

Founded in 1863 by King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, ‘Iolani School is situated on a 25-acre campus and serves more than 1,880 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. A culturally diverse, co-educational, college preparatory school with approximately 306 full-time faculty, ‘Iolani is rated among the best independent schools in the country for its academic, arts and athletics programs.

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