In 2010, scientists from world space agencies decided to share their expertise with schools. The Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut challenge was developed to encourage proper exercise and nutrition by teaching children aged between 8 and 12 to live and eat like space explorers.
Mission X is free and provides a wealth of online resources that can be used in science, PE, food technology, well-being and language lessons or as whole-school activities. The resources are set as challenges and pupils can earn badges and points, and post updates of their progress on the international blog. An international challenge takes place from January to March each year, supported by Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, videos and links with astronauts.
The Mountfitchet Mathematics and Computing College was the lead pilot school in the UK. Head Catherine Anderson quickly saw the potential of the project for raising morale in a school that was under special measures. Mountfitchet provided staff training, held a launch and gave support to local primaries during the challenge. Pupils from five primaries were then invited to an astronaut graduation event where they showcased their work, spoke online with British astronaut Timothy Peake and met space tourist Richard Garriott.
"Mission X allowed primary and secondary school students to collaborate in a way that encouraged team-building as well as developing a competitive element," Anderson says. "It also offered many cross-curricular opportunities.'
Mission challenges included pupils identifying optimum hydration levels by creating (simulated) well-hydrated urine samples and keeping a hydration diary. Pupils created models of bones and examined bone health, and also analysed astronaut menus for nutritional, fat, sugar and salt levels. PE challenges included agility, dexterity, core strength and aerobic exercises.
Tips from the scheme
Engage staff with different curriculum responsibilities to provide a creative, whole-school approach.
Do not get hung up on the concept of space. This project is all about real-life challenges that naturally lead to a greater understanding of a healthy lifestyle.
Involve older pupils as "astronaut instructors" and trainers.
Use the resources provided by Nasa and the UK Space Agency - they are invaluable.
Use the project to connect with schools in countries such as Colombia, Japan and the US as well as European nations.
Evidence that it works?
Nasa has produced an outline report highlighting the international appeal of space-themed fitness and nutrition challenges for children. Mission X has partnered with the White House's Let's Move campaign. UK schools have commented on pupils' increased interest in science and improved eating habits. They say there has also been increased awareness of the benefits of exercise for general health, especially bone health.
The UK project manager Heather MacRae received a Sir Arthur Clarke Award for her work on Mission X. The project has grown from involving six UK schools in 2011 to 80 schools in 2013.
Find out more at the Mission X websites: trainlikeanastronaut.org and bit.lyAgbKFv and on Twitter at twitter.comwalktothemoon #MissionXUK
Approach: International outreach activities supported by astronauts and astronaut fitness specialists. Free resources can be found at trainlike anastronaut.org
Leaders: Nasa, the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency
Target age range: 8-12
UK schools involved in 2013 80
Name: The Mountfitchet Mathematics and Computing College and feeder primaries
Location: Stansted, Essex
Type: Mixed secondary
Age range: 11-16
Intake: Mixed, with a specialist dyslexia unit based within the school
Ofsted overall rating: Now satisfactory and improving following a period of special measures.