The Space Foundation has launched a  program to teach high school students in four local school districts how to start space-related businesses.

With the help of a $1.5 million Department of Defense grant, the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit is teaching 60 students each from Colorado Springs School District 11, Academy School District 20, Harrison School District 2 and Widefield School District 3 lessons about aerospace and engineering with a curriculum built around what would be needed for a trip to Mars, said Autumn Thomas, the foundation's vice president of education. The program includes 60 hours of instruction per semester through sessions offered two or three times a week.

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"This grant allows our education department to spread the excitement and hope that a space-inspired curriculum brings to a community," Thomas said in a Space Foundation news release. "We know our program is highly effective, teaching entrepreneurial, cooperative, problem-solving and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to young people in a unique and engaging way."

Space Foundation began designing the Junior Space Entrepreneur Program two years ago. It applied for the grant in April and received the funding in September to allow classes to begin in the fall semester in the Harrison and Widefield districts and in districts 11 and 20 in January. The program also will be offered to  students through the U.S. Department of Education-funded Trio Upward Bound program at Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado State University-Pueblo.

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"During the semester, students will learn about entrepreneurship to come up with businesses that would lead to a better life on Earth," Thomas said. "Through Junior Achievement (of Southern Colorado), they will learn how to create a business and the costs and other requirements of starting a company. They will actually start a business, and at the end of the semester will give a 'Shark-Tank' style presentation and raise money for their business."

The schools involved will get programmable robots and drones, iPads, computers and other technology to learn about higher levels of coding, Thomas said. The program also will include presentations by the Colorado Springs nonprofit Mobile Earth and Space Observatory and retired National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut Duane "Digger" Carey, who lives in Colorado Springs.

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The grant covers the first three years of the program. After that, the foundation plans to seek other grants to continue the funding or will offer the program curriculum to the districts involved to use with their own teaching staff, Thomas said. The Department of Defense Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering made $47 million in grants to Space Foundation, 12 colleges and universities and two other nonprofits. The grants are targeted at education in STEM, biotechnology and civics.

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Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

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