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We have lift-off … Mission Discovery launches

Nearly 150 boys will be taking part today (Monday 18 March) in Mission Discovery, as the week-long programme of exciting space-themed activities gets under way at Tonbridge School.

Renowned NASA astronauts Dr Michael Foale CBE and Dr Steve Swanson will be based at the school and leading various events. Dr Foale, the first British-born NASA astronaut, is an astrophysicist and a former International Space Station (ISS) commander who has been into space on six missions. 

Dr Swanson, also a former ISS commander as well as an engineer, has logged more than 640 hours in space and completed four spacewalks.

Mission Discovery is the creation of ISSET, the International Space School Educational Trust, and is one of the UK’s most prestigious science and technology programmes. Tonbridge is the first UK school to host the Mission Discovery event.

During the week, pupils from various schools will have the opportunity to work with the astronauts and also with world-renowned scientists. Their challenge will be to create a science experiment and to present their ideas to a panel of judges. The winning entry will be built by King’s College London and NASA, and launched to the International Space Station, where it will be carried out by the astronauts aboard the ISS. 

The ISS is described by NASA as “the most famous laboratory on Earth ... or off it”, and there will be vigorous competition among students for their design to be chosen as the winner. Past winning entries sent into space have included work on genetics, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Foale said: “Mission Discovery is the most complete and exciting educational programme I have worked with. I’m always excited to see where the students’ imaginations take them and watch their ideas develop throughout the week. When I was young, I would have loved the chance to have an experiment flown into space.” 

Schools taking part, in addition to Tonbridge, include The Marsh Academy, The Judd School, The Skinners’ School, Skinners’ Academy, Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School and Weald of Kent Grammar School.

The first day of Mission Discovery was aimed at Year 9 boys, who were set the challenge of coming up with a product, food or technology that could improve life either on Earth or in space.

On Tuesday 19 March, a  three-day programme for the Lower Sixth begins, and on Friday 22 March it is the turn of Year 10 to take part.

Personal objectives set for students in the week are to work successfully in teams, deliver persuasive presentations and to speak confidently in public.

BBC South East Today, the regional television news programme, arrived at Tonbridge School on the first morning to capture some of the excitement of the start of Mission Discovery. 

Mission Discovery is taking place in the school’s newly opened Barton Science Centre. The astronauts are also giving a series of talks throughout the week, with topics including Commanding the ISS, Life in Space, the History of the Space Race, Becoming an Astronaut and the Story of a Space Mission.

Other speakers during the week include Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist and a Lecturer in Pharmacology at King’s College London.

Following Mission Discovery Week, the school’s Barton Science Centre will receive its official opening on Saturday 23 March.


  • Barton Science Centre