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NASA downlink with Nettleton STEAM to be featured in new documentary ‘To the Stars and Back’ on Arkansas PBS

Posted 06 Apr 2021

Film highlights first communication

between International Space Station and Arkansas students

CONWAY, Ark. (Arkansas PBS) — Arkansas PBS, the Arkansas Department of Education Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Arkansas State University (A-State) recently partnered with the Nettleton STEAM Intermediate School on a grant from NASA that allowed 3rd-6th grade students to communicate with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station through a downlink. This once in a lifetime opportunity is featured in the new documentary “To the Stars and Back” premiering on Arkansas PBS Thursday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. and livestreaming at Additionally, the film will premiere at Friday, April 16, at 1 p.m.

“Arkansas’s first downlink with the International Space Station was a unique moment in time for our state – one that we are proud to preserve and share through film,” Arkansas PBS CEO Courtney Pledger said. “Our entire team tuned in to the live downlink in December, many of us reliving our own childhood dreams of space exploration.

“I know that viewers statewide will enjoy the curiosity shown by our Nettleton STEAM students as they posed thought-provoking questions to astronauts live from space.”

The accompanying professional development course for educators, “To the Stars and Back: Empowering Students With Project-Based Learning,” will be available this summer through ArkansasIDEAS. The course reviews how the students, faculty and administration at Nettleton STEAM created and completed project based learning opportunities to prepare for the downlink and how other schools across the state can share in these powerful instructional practices.

“I am extremely proud of the Nettleton STEAM students for serving as excellent ambassadors for Arkansas,” ADE Secretary Johnny Key said. “It was clearly evident that the students put a lot of forethought and effort into the thought-provoking questions they asked the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

“Thanks to an excellent partnership among several agencies and organizations, the opportunity to learn from this amazing exchange is available to the entire state, along with educational resources that will be available to educators this summer. I extend my sincere appreciation to the students, educators, and partners who made this possible.”

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first scientists boarding the space station for extended study, NASA offered the chance for young scientists here on Earth to earn the opportunity to communicate with the scientists currently aboard the International Space Station. Downlink communications have been a regular occurrence for those onboard, with signals carried through satellites rather than everyday cell towers or phonelines. Working with partners from A-State in Jonesboro and DESE, Nettleton STEAM Intermediate School was awarded the opportunity This was the first time the space station communicated directly with anyone in Arkansas.

“The NASA In-Flight Educational Downlink was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our STEAMers and for students across the state,” Cathelene Gray, STEAM principal, Nettleton Public Schools said. “To be able to converse in real-time with astronauts aboard the International Space Station was life-changing for our students and a game changer in the world of STEM learning.

“This experience was not just limited to a one day event. Our students collaborated, designed and solved problems through NASA project based learning opportunities that transcended anything of this earth and extended their learning for an out of this world adventure. We cannot do something this incredible without help from Arkansas State University, our partners at Arkansas PBS and ADE, and all of our community leaders around the state. For this, we are beyond grateful for their efforts, wisdom, and knowledge to make this learning experience possible.”

Special messages during the event included Gov. Asa Hutchinson, President Bill Clinton, U.S. Rep. French Hill, and other VIP speakers.

Additional STEAM resources are available at, and STEM resources for Arkansas schools are available at

Arkansas PBS, Arkansas’s only statewide public media network, enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. Arkansas PBS delivers daily, essential, local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers through multiple digital platforms, including livestreaming at, on-demand services and YouTube TV, and the distinct channels Arkansas PBS, Arkansas PBS Create, Arkansas PBS KIDS, Arkansas PBS WORLD and Arkansas PBS AIRS on SAP. Members with Arkansas PBS Passport have extended on-demand access to a rich library of public television programming. Arkansas PBS depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. Additional information is available at Arkansas PBS is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro) and KETZ (El Dorado).