Sputnik Moment: 21st-Century Rocket Boys & Girls


On the evening of October 4, 1957, at 1912 Greenwich Mean Time, an R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off from the former Soviet Union carrying a 23-inch shiny steel orb with four metal antennas named Sputnik. The “Space Age” had

begun and along with it a new age of educational urgency and educational reform in the United States. Today, the questions and circumstances are different than the Sputnik Era; however, the need for urgency and the goal is the same—innovation.

In response to last week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama, Dr. Francis “Duke” Kane (Col., USAF, ret.), the Father of the U.S. Global Positioning System, says “Similar to Eisenhower’s answer to the Sputnik threat, we must invest in science and technology, education and human creativity.”  Duke was recognized as a Space and Missile Pioneer and catalyst of GPS by the US Air Force Space Command on March 2, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas.

◼ Lackland Air Force Base, March 2,2010, Presentation of Space Pioneer Portrait, Dr. Francis X. Kane (Col., USAF, ret.).


At 92 years of age, he is the President of the Schriever Institute and still a bellwether for what is next in the “Strategy of Technology.” For the past decade Duke has advocated development of programs to inspire the “speed of light generation” to pursue space exploration with an eye toward Mars and how we can harvest “living energy” from space.

Similar to President Obama, after the launch of Sputnik, President Eisenhower, in 1957, faced rising global tensions, a critical time window and very low tolerance for failure. As it relates to K-12 education, Eisenhower discovered the M.I.T. Physical Sciences Study Committee (PSSC) created to reform teaching of introductory courses in physics—shifting from rote learning to learning-by-doing.

The first edition of the new high school textbook, Physics, appeared in 1960 and the Teacher’s Guide explains the shift in pedagogy engendered by this new approach as a shift from “axiomatic” (self-evident truth) to “inductive” (using observation to move from specific to broader conclusions) presentation of the curriculum. Similar to PSSC, modern educational science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) practice is undergoing a systematic transformation.

The term STEM was coined by Dr. Judith Ramaley when she was Assistant Director of the Education and Human Resources Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2001 to 2004 (Chute, 2009). Ramaley’s concept of STEM places learning in the context of solving real world problems and creating new knowledge—pursuit of innovation. Spurred by a public and private sector push for global competitiveness, STEM has become a lightning rod for education in 2011.

Emerging P-20 Strategies, Technologies and Jobs

At work today in your high school or a neighboring high school is a group of students who are learning by creating, designing, building and breaking some new fangled rocket, robot, car, dragster, or video game. These are the rocket boys and girls of the 21st century and the American answer to national innovation, competitiveness and security.

In the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg High School students are launching rockets at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2). Systems Go, a high school aerospace program, has propelled Justin Junell into work as an analysis engineer at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center. During his senior year, Junell and classmates launched a 22-foot-tall Red Bird 12 rocket at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

◼ Fredericksburg High School launched the Red Bird 12 Rocket. Fredericksburg High School launched the Red Bird 12 rocket with support from White Sands Missile Range. The Red Bird 12 was designed and developed to produce 2,200 pounds of thrust for 23.5seconds producing a lift off acceleration of 5-g’s.  The fuel grain and nozzle were designed and developed entirely by high school students. Designed by Brett Williams, the Rocket ManIgnite Learning’s SystemsGO offers schools nation wide the ability to follow his students into space. (White Sands Missile Range).


While the first manned spaceship to go into outer space was the Soviet Vostok I, in 1961, the first entrepreneurs in space are propelled by Virgin Galactic including the engineering of Burt Ratan (US) and Sir Richard Branson (UK). In 2008, the Aerospace Industries Association produced a report titled Launching the 21st Century American Aerospace Workforce with a call to cultivate a highly skilled workforce of scientists, engineers and technicians critical to our national security, our economy and the strength of our industrial base.

In San Antonio, Information Technology and Security Academy (ITSA) students have advanced to the Cyber Patriot national hacker defense competition in 2011. The CyberPatriot program is designed by Greg White, Ph.D., at the University of Texas San Antonio to spur more interest in computer science and cyber security nationally. In July of 2010, Human Capital Crisis in Cybersecurity called for a shift from knowledge-based testing to demonstration of learned knowledge (skill) as a critical change for certifications at both technical and professional levels of cyber security.

◼ ROTC Cyber Patriots from US Cyber Patriot Competition, Team Doolittle from Clearfield HS, Clearfield, Utah, ponders a problem with their network, Pictured left to right: T.J. Boender, Eric Takacs, Adam Thurman, Jorge Lerma, and Robert Estrada Jr.


The report, Designing our Digital Future, identifies network and information technology (NIT) as a critical lynch pin in the US science and technology workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 1998-2008, NIT occupations have comprised between 52% and 58% of all science and technology occupations. Cyberspace is the crucible upon which US wealth creation has been built since the Apollo program—spanning engineering, life science, physical science, and social science occupations. According to BLS 2009 projections, cyberspace (NIT) will add 762,700 jobs growing more than twice as fast as the average for all occupations in the economy, according to the 2008-2018 forecast.

In Florida, Orlando Tech students are building video games and using motion capture technology for occupational and physical therapy. Programs that bolster interest and competency in health care and life science are critical as Baby boomers retire, the care base expands and research and development accelerates. Definitions of health care workforce shortage areas include primary care, long term care, and mental health ranging from doctors to nurses and including many technical specialties from dental to Health Information Technology (HIT).

◼ Orlando Tech Students work on video games, 3-D Modelling and Motion Capture Technology.


In Glendale, California, Clark Magnet High School environmental science students dive a small remotely operated submarine as part of the Lexus Eco Challenge. In this initiative, students study pollution levels in the California spiny lobster. Led by teacher Dominque Evans-Bye, publshed GIS analysis indicating that runoff from agriculture in Ventura County travel offshore with ocean currents to affect lobster populations in coastal waters. Industry runoff has a high impact on marine life in and around the LA Harbor. The group of students call their team the ‘Ecosavers’, and are all enrolled in the second year of a marine science class which studies Environmental GIS, a program that covers different ecosystems and detects natural and man-made factors within that ecosystem.

Previous remotely operated submersible operations by students identified heavy metals flowing from the city waterways into the LA Harbor where homeland security and first responders train divers. Student findings resulted in procedural changes for training and certifying first responders. Similar to other STEM areas, the environmental public health workforce is in need of practitioners from program officers to technicians to prevent and mitigate environmental tragedies and maintain high standards of public health.

◼ Clark STEM Magnet School students learning to prep the set-up for Soxhlet extraction of organochlorines.


In California, Los Altos Academy of Engineering students regularly show up to the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas green car challenge with a surprise for university and industry competitors. In 2007, the inventive high school students entered a fuel cell car averaging 1,038 mpg equivalent—others competitors showed up with solar cars. Fuel cell technology uses a non-combustion chemical process to eliminate sulfur-oxide (SO2), nitrogen-oxides (NOX) and carbon-monoxide (CO) from energy production.

◼ The Los Altos Engineering Academy has a tradition of integrating math and science curriculum with student directed engineering projects. Students apply academic knowledge to solve real-world problems. From solar and electric powered cars to human powered airplanes, students learn to use teamwork to design and construct large scale projects. Partnerships with Edison, Toyota, AQMD, and Boeing give students access to leading-edge technology and expertise. Cooperation with Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State LA, Cerritos College has provided academy students with access to some of the leading hydrogen technology in America.


Beyond transportation, fuel cells called “Bloom Boxes” or “Energy Power Servers” available from Bloom Energy in California provide energy efficiency (EE) today for utilities, large industrial plants, and large businesses. As the US push to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to reduce the carbon footprint marches on, energy efficiency (EE) initiatives at utilities, industrial plants, and large employer sites hunger for “multi-skill” professionals and technicians across the entire spectrum from research and development to plant operations.

In Dallas, Texas, Denton ISD Advanced Technology Center students drove their “Bat Mobile” to a National Electric Dragster Association world record in October 2010. Similar to the PSSC, this is not your traditional science class. These are examples of Career and Technical Education (CTE) transforming rote learning into practice with high academic standards. These STEM efforts underscore a tectonic shift in K-12 education from narrow disciplines to transdiciplinary initiatives–situating learning within the context of solving real world challenges and opportunities.

◼ The Denton ISD Advanced Technology Center dragster designed and developed by the Denton ISD ATC Engineering, Auto Technology, Welding and Computer Numeric Control Programs has set the world record for speed at 9.93 seconds with a new design of an electrical powered engine. The ATC dragster designed and developed by the Denton ISD ATC Engineering, Auto Technology, Welding and Computer Numeric Control Programs has set the world record for speed at 9.93 seconds with a new design of an electrical powered engine.


Our Personal Sputnik Moment

Perhaps more than any external threat such as that posed by the Soviets in 1957, today our personal Sputnik is our feeling of inadequacy in the face of all of the technology present in our lives. Many of us hold back and are afraid of technology. We are conservative in the face of change and hold onto the status-quo because we have a sense of control.

As the 21st century “Sputnik moment” penetrates the national conscience after the recent State of the Union address, it is time for reflection about our perceptions and attitudes about “shop class” and “vocational education.” The role and scope of technology in our world is changing rapidly. Our cell phones now have more computing power than the computers used by NASA to put man on the moon.

The X-box game console has more computing power than any single supercomputer in 1994—with estimates by the super computer association of $120 million to achieve X-box calculation speeds at the time. Computers are embedded in toys, wash machines, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, sprinkler systems, planes, trains, automobiles, and traffic lights. These systems represent a shift from personal computers to mechatronic and robotic systems—now part of the fabric of 21st century society.

What we are missing in the 21st century is the view that technology is not the gadgets and the hardware and the software. It is not the atoms or the photons or the electrons pulsing through the Internet or our home appliances. Rather, the technology is us. According to Dr. Kane, “Technology is human creativity and artistic expression… it is knowledge in action… knowledge with a purpose… it is the art in science and engineering…” According to this view, “technology is the space between our minds and our hands.” It is our imagination, our ability to tell stories, our drive to exist and make the world a better place. For Dr. Kane, “…this space is where the speed of light generation operates.”

Career and Technical Education and Career Pathways have a role to play in this creative transformation. At Denton ISD and in pockets of innovation through out the United States one can pursue law, pre-med, engineering, architecture, animation special effects and other career pathways relevant to 21st century society. At schools such as Denton’s Advanced Technology Center, Fredericksburg HS, ITSA, Orlando Tech, Clark Magnet and the Los Altos Academy of Engineering, the woodshop has become an animation studio, a rocket design lab, an eco automotive workshop, an oceanography laboratory and the conclave for ethical hacking and cyber security.

CTE is an educational movement with a purpose. It is the high school workbench for the inventors, scientists, technicians and artists who will transform our economy and our hopes as we reach for the stars and what is next in the human story. This is the new face of Career and Technical Education. And, it is the hands and minds and dreams of the 21st century rocket boys and girls that are creating how the future works—today!


__Inquire about Systems Go rocketry, the Lexus Eco Challenge and Shell Eco-Marathon Americas STEM programs for your school.

__Enter a High School in the Cyber Patriot Defensive Hacker Competition Sponsored by the US Air Force Association for a total cost of $350. Teams that place into nationals travel free to Washington DC in 2011. Learn more about Cyber Patriot.

__Attend the National Career Pathway Network Conference, October 12-14, at the Orlando World Center Marriot to learn more about how CTE, STEM and Career Pathways can propel your students to college and career readiness in the 21st century.

__Introduce a Middle School Class to www.Whyville.net and become an entrepreneur, run for Senator, write an article for the whyville times, design a green energy home or design a cure for the whypox in the bio informatics lab. Whyville is 100% free and offers career simulations in addition to many other activities with over 6 million subscribers served.

__Connect Earth Science and service-based learning in your community with GLOBE.  The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program. GLOBE’s vision promotes and supports students, teachers and scientists to collaborate on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the Earth system working in close partnership with NASA, NOAA and NSF Earth System Science Projects (ESSP’s) in study and research about the dynamics of Earth’s environment.

__Contact Donna McKethan at Waco ISD about her “Robot Math” course called Analytical Integrated Mathematics funded by the US Department of Education. The course delivers rigorous career and academic preparation and represents a new standard for vocational mathematics. Funded by a Gear Up grant, the curriculum is free. In Texas, the Career and Technical Education math course counts for post Algebra II academic credit.

__Schedule a free teleconference, webinar or web video conversation with Dr. Francis X. Kane, Father of the Global Positioning System to inspire your students in their pursuits for living, learning and working in a GPS world. Contact Jim Brazell at 210-381-2835 or jim.brazell@radicalplatypus.com to make arrangements.


The modern equivalent of PSSC’s approach to physics (hands-on and high academic rigor) is the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education. Otherwise known as OP-TEC the high technology program for high schools and colleges is a model answer to Obama’s rhetorical “Sputnik moment.” The consortium, like PSSC, was founded in anticipation of needs in academic physics and industrial research and development. Optics is at the center of next generation health care, life science, medicine, cyber security, computing, networking, home entertainment, green energy, aerospace, and more. Optics and photonics impact everything from HDTV to new flexible displays to new diabetes blood tests that require less blood and time for analysis to robotics that index entire human genomes in four (4) days. Founded by Dan Hull, Ph.D., OP-TEC offers a vocation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)related to optics and photonics in collaboration with high schools, two-year colleges and universities.

◼ Texas State Technical College Science & Technology R&D Technician at the Baylor Nano Lab (Casper).


Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker and strategist focusing on innovation and transformation. Since 2003, Jim has authored several emerging technology forecasts and briefs in addition to consulting on international technology innovation strategies in Portugal and the U.S. In October of 2011, Jim will deliver the keynote speech for the National Career Pathway Network conference in Orlando, Florida. Jim’s mentor and collaborator is Dr. (Col.) Francis X. “Duke” Kane who was recognized in March of 2010 as a catalyst of the global positioning system (GPS) among other achievements. Jim and Duke are the co-founders of spaceTEAMS in San Antonio, Texas, targeting the first person to walk on Mars to be from San Antonio. On January 28, 2011 Jim delivered a webinar for MATEC Networks titled STEM: Mainstreaming CTE. To watch all or part of the 2 hour program online free, visit MATCH Networks and “create an account” with NSF funded program to view the recording of the webinar from your computer.


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