Back in 1994, I thought it would be great if I could do science projects with schools across the nation. At that time, I had an account with AOL and my username was OceanFront. I had memories of the space station created by Walt Disney back in 1955 and shown on his Disney television show, and imagined a similar virtual space station where students and teachers would be welcomed aboard to conduct experiments in space.
I worked with AOL in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse to help launch an idea I developed called, “Space Island.” I used the Internet to invite schools in the United States to partner with the idea to cross-train and learn from each other. Soon, schools from around the world were contacting me to join our Space Island’s story.
Projects varied around the world. For example, students in Kuwait discussed how water would be made in space, since water was an important necessity in their desert country. Students in Nebraska wrote, “Using this water maybe we could raise corn in hydroponic labs.” Students from Cambodia said, “While corn is a good crop, we think rice would have more benefits.”
Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, universities were prime online connectors that linked to other universities and schools that were connected to them. The Universities of Helsinki and Amsterdam were key to spreading the Space Island program globally. University students from Helsinki noted that with so many languages aboard our virtual space station they would work on a language translator. Their initial project translated Spanish, English and Finnish into the present tense. Online translators, like “Babelfish”, started their first explorations at this point. Today, you can find ‘Babelfish.com’ now translates about 75 languages.
Back in the late 1990’s, the United States had boycotted China, but online, my program reached a teacher in Beijing, China. Not able to directly contact me, her request traveled to Helsinki, then to Amsterdam then to me. I was an educator not a politician, but the red lights went off when China became part of the program. This caused an investigation.
Two State Senators came to my school to find out what my connection with China was. I was working with JPL and NASA and there was probably concern about Space technology getting passed around.
While that was going on a reporter from the Los Angeles Times Newspaper started his investigation on the number of participants in the Space Island online program. Working with AOL, the number of participants was confirmed to have reached globally 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations. In short–It went Viral.
In 1996, the United States Congress placed my Space Island Program into the Library of Congress as a historical event. It was considered the first long distant educational program ever developed. Both the State of California and NASA also gave recognition. Today, all online educational programs are a continuation of the story. When I look back, I realize good stories can influence and change lives globally.