• Lisa Love

HLS talks to the ISS: How it all began

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

October 2017: I discovered NASA was accepting letters of intent to host a downlink with the International Space Station. Just two months prior, I had begun working at H.L. Suverkrup elementary school and felt a great desire to give those students an unforgettable experience.

I found out about the opportunity only one week before the deadline of Nov. 1st 2017 and, of course, my week was already packed with other commitments. It was going to be difficult to find the time to write a letter, a good letter, but I wanted to give HLS a fighting chance at being selected, so I found some time somewhere.

I looked over the sample letters NASA had supplied and searched out how others had been selected. I thought I knew what they were looking for in the letter.

Draft after draft after draft, I wrote what I thought NASA was wanting to hear.

It wasn't working for me.

The drafts felt stiff and boring and I just couldn't bring myself to submit any of them.

I was alone in my classroom and I started thinking about why I wanted these students to have this experience. Memories of my own childhood flooded back to me, memories that helped me remember how looking into the stars had given me a reason to dream and hope during a very hard time of my life.

That is what I wanted for these students. From deep in my heart, a desire to give these students a reason to look up and dream welled up and suddenly I knew ... I knew exactly what to write. I started typing and I couldn't type fast enough. The words just kept coming.

This is the letter I wrote:

Hello JSC!

Greetings from H.L. Suverkrup Elementary School in sunny and warm Yuma, AZ!

We’re bustling and learning as we prepare for blast off in May of 2018.

Lots to do. Lots to do.

“Where are you going?” you ask?

Well, naturally, we’re going on a school field trip to MARS!! The whole school, our teachers, custodians, office staff … ALL of us! We’re going to Mars and we can’t wait! That’s why we are requesting that you select our school to host a downlink with the ISS. We NEED to talk to those astronauts! We have questions. We are curious. We want advice.

But maybe we should back up a bit and explain

Our journey is just beginning. Two weeks ago, Mrs. Valentin, our principal, learned about NASA’s invitation to submit our names to be recorded on a microchip and attached to the InSight Mars Lander. She knew right then and there, H.L. Suverkrup elementary school needed to do this and so she invited the whole school along for the ride.

It didn’t take long, only a week, and we all had our InSight Mars Lander boarding passes. All students, faculty, and staff members at our school had put their names on the list. Older students helped younger students fill out the information needed on the NASA website. These pictures show one of the 5 th grade classes helping students in a 1 st grade class obtain their boarding passes to Mars. These pictures were taken last week. We were super excited to see our individual names on our own individual boarding passes. Our names will go everywhere on Mars that the InSight Lander goes! Yay!

our countdown has begun!!

But now what? What do we pack? How long will we be gone? What will we do while we are there? What is the food like on Mars? Most importantly, is Mars a Pokestop?

We are just as curious as you are.

This is what we know:

Our teachers have been working hard figuring out ways to help us learn more about space travel, space science, and, of course, Mars! Each grade level and each class will incorporate this field trip into the stuff we learn in different ways. Guess what? We’re not just going to talk about space science in our classes. We will also do projects in reading, art, music, math, writing, and history to get us ready for this journey. Mrs. Valentin says they don’t just need scientists to go to Mars. Someone needs to go along to record everything, draw pictures, and create music; so we need to be good readers as well as good scientists. If we’re going on this long journey, we need to be prepared in every subject we study.

Even our PE teachers are going to help us prepare. They found some great info on the NASA website about training to be an astronaut. We’re counting all our steps to walk the circumference of the earth. We are doing the same kinds of exercises astronauts do to train their bodies to be healthy and strong. The PE teachers are planning to have some U.S. Marine jet pilots from Marine Crops Air Station Yuma (MCAS) come do a special pilot boot camp with us before our trip. Will that be fun or not? We’ll let you know.

When the Yuma County Library found out about our plans, they couldn’t wait to join us. Currently, the library is one of only 8 libraries in the entire nation to house an exhibit called . Our school doesn’t have the funds for all of us to go see the exhibit, so they are going to come to us! Our school librarian, Ms. Miknaitis, and Hannah Stewart, the Youth Services Manager at Yuma County Library, are working together to organize astronomy themed interactive, educational, and fun outreach programs for our school library!

Mrs. Valentin wants our parents to understand all about our school field trip as well. That’s why the Yuma Astronomy Club and the Yuma County Library have agreed to do a special star gazing evening on the school playing field for our families. The club will bring cool telescopes and lots of fascinating information to teach our families about astronomy. We can’t wait to look out into the night sky using telescopes! Our plan is to do this in May when Mars is closest to the Earth so we can get the best look possible.

But wait, there’s more!! People from NASA come to Yuma often, especially to for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft at the Yuma Proving Ground. A couple of the NASA specialists are going to meet with Mrs. Valentin on Nov. 6th to discuss what types of presentations and activities we can all do together throughout the next couple of years. We are excited to find out what fun things they have planned.

Already two news organizations have found out about our field trip and they want to come along too! Maya Springhawk Robinette of KAWC news, who is also affiliated with the Arizona Science Desk is excited to learn more about our journey. She will share our adventures in learning with NPR member stations throughout the state of Arizona. Marcia Oppong from Kronkite News will also be following our preparations along the journey.

Mrs. Valentin tells us that more collaboration and partnerships are in the works with more fun learning opportunities coming our way. She has promised that she will call the Yuma Daily Sun newspaper and local news and radio stations to come join us in our journey.

It just seems to be getting better and better.

But Houston, we have a problem.

Some of us are scared. Some of us didn’t understand what it meant when we typed in our names to get a boarding pass. Some of us thought we were really going to Mars. Some of us wondered if our moms could come along for the trip. Some of us didn’t know how far away Mars is, what it takes to get there, and, this is kind of embarrassing, some of us didn’t even know what Mars was.

We are a little school in a rural town in the southwest corner of Arizona right on the Mexican border. A lot of us are the first or second generation of our family to go to school. 69% of us live below the federal poverty level. Many of us are learning English as a second language. Some of us have never traveled outside the city limits. Some of us travel back and forth between two different schools in two different states during the school year because our parents are migrant workers, going where the farmers need crop harvesters. Sometimes it feels like there are a lot of things working against us and sometimes the whole universe feels very, very, very big and impossible to understand in our tiny corner of the desert.

But you know what? Our parents and our teachers believe in us and so we believe in us. For the last school year, 2016-2017, the ELL student population at H.L.S. made more growth than all the other schools in our school district. Do you know what else? We were rated an “A” school by the Arizona Department of Education! They said we showed an exceptional amount of overall growth!

We still have a lot to learn and some of us are trying to understand and make sense of the little bit of the Earth that we live on. Realizing that there is a place called Mars out there in the universe is beyond what some of us have learned so far. But we want to learn and we will learn … we hunger for it.

That is why we NEED to talk to the astronauts on the iSS! We have questions. Are they really up there? If we wave, can they see us? Can they see our little corner of the Arizona desert? How did they get there? What did they learn when they were our age that pointed them in that direction? As we prepare for our journey to Mars, how can they help us be ready? Some of us need lots of recess. Do they get recess in space? Can any of them speak Spanish? Did any of them learn a second language? Was that hard for them? We have so many questions – sciency questions and not so sciency questions.

Our school is an Apple Connect Ed school which means we have all of the latest computer and technical equipment needed to host a downlink from the ISS. Our school district is often visited by representatives from the Apple company and if there is anything we possibly do not have, Mrs. Valentin is absolutely confident we will be able to obtain what is necessary to make this happen. Crane School District has a highly skilled technical department. We believe they can do anything!

As far as we are concerned, we can host the downlink on any day between March 1st 2018 and Sept. 30th , 2018, but we’re told there are a few dates we are not available. April 2nd -20th is our week-long spring break and it’s also a window of time we are supposed to take a state mandated test. We don’t have exact dates yet. (Can you get us out of taking that test please?) Also, school is out on June 1 st and we start again at the beginning of August. But seriously, any time, we’ll make it work!

If we are selected and scheduled to host a downlink, we are going to tell everyone! We won’t be able to contain our excitement!

If we are selected and scheduled to host a downlink, we’ll do our research. We will prepare our questions. We will study what they study so that we will be ready to learn as much as we possibly can.

What we are trying to say is WE WANT TO TALK TO THOSE ASTRONAUTS! By talking to the ISS, many of us will realize how real it is, how real space is, how real the universe is, and how real our dreams can be. We may not all be astronauts or space scientists in the future … but then again, maybe we will!!! The future of the NASA program and of space exploration could truly be one of us … or all of us!

Mrs. Valentin’s goal for this project is not only to foster interest in science education and exploration, but also to open our eyes and our minds to the world around us. She wants us to look up at the sky and not just see stars, but see our potential. She knows that even if we don’t all become scientists and even if we don’t all set out to truly travel to Mars one day, if we shoot for the stars, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

It feels like we already are.

Well, JSC, that’s all for now. We better get back to work and we hope to hear from you soon! We’ll all be waiting anxiously.

May the force be with you all,

The Future Martians at H.L. Suverkrup elementary school,

Yuma, Az

Look! Even our super cool custodial staff has their boarding passes! We told them there will be lots of dust on Mars. They said that we live in the desert, they are used to dust.

If you have questions or when you find out if Mars is a Pokestop or not, you can contact Mrs. Lisa Love at

When I was done with the letter, I wiped the tears from my eyes and I knew this was the letter that needed to be submitted. I knew it ...

but I was scared.

This letter came straight out of my heart, from deep in my heart. There is always a bit of vulnerability that goes along with that and a fear of rejection and I wondered if the people at NASA would just roll their eyes and think of my letter as a big ball of cheesy fluff and trash it.

I know, stupid, but those were my fears, they were real and I had to push through them and go forward with what my gut was telling me to do ... SEND THE LETTER!

So I sent the letter and at the beginning of February, 2018 I received an email that changed the trajectory of HLS forever!

We had been selected to be selected - it wasn't a guarantee, but it was hope and I couldn't have been happier, in fact, after reading the email I literally ran to the principal's office and we all jumped up and down together! (I love the people I get to work with!)

Stay tuned for more of our journey!

P.S. We got to talk to the ISS (just in case you can't wait for the exciting conclusion.)