Ad Astra Kansas Foundation History and Activities

State SealThe Ad Astra Kansas Foundation began as the Ad Astra Kansas Initiative in 2001 with a goal of raising Kansas’ scientific profile in the 21st century, especially in the space sciences.  To achieve that goal, the Initiative, and now the Foundation, has established a number of educational activities. It's name is taken from the state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, which appears on the official Kansas State Seal (Click the image for a larger view).

Ad Astra Kansas News

The Foundation's first and longest running project is the Ad Astra Kansas News, began as a semiannual four-page newsletter highlighting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in Kansas that have connections with space.  The newsletter began in the spring of 2002, and as of January 2017 thirty-two issues have been published.  It has covered stories ranging from Kansas students in science competitions to Kansas scientists working with NASA on tiny Mars rovers, from the Voyager mission and new spacecraft materials to developing a spacesuit for use in assessing astronaut fitness.  The newsletter is distributed to more than 750 people by e-mail.  In 2016, the newsletter expanded to quarterly issues. (Visit the archives)

AAK Day/Space Celebration

EngineersIn 2003, the Foundation realized that science deserved its own day in Kansas, and requested that Governor Kathleen Sebelius proclaim April 25 as AD ASTRA Kansas Day to promote public awareness of the importance of science and technology to Kansas’ future and to recognize scientific achievement in Kansas. It coincided with the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 by native Kansas Steve Hawley.

2010 AAK Day Proclamation





Since then, a total of five such proclamations have been granted under three Kansas governors. (Click the image at right for a larger view)

One of the Foundation's goals is to have AAK Day recognized and celebrated statewide, whether in the schools, communities or by industry.  It includes all of the sciences and can offer a great rallying point for STEM, such an essential component for Kansas’ future.

Since 2010 The Foundation has sponsored an annual AD ASTRA KANSAS Day Space Celebration at Washburn University, Topeka, with the cooperation of the Washburn University Department of Physics and Astronomy. This free event, geared for families, includes planetarium shows and observatory viewing, flight, telescope, robotics and “space ice cream” demos, hands-on space and engineering activities, presentations and give-aways through the cooperation of almost twenty community-  and education-minded  volunteers. The event has also included special content aimed to encourage girls interested in the sciences. Themes have included the 20th anniversary of the Hubble and the twin Voyager spacecraft.  In both 2010 and 2011 more than 250 attended each year.  In 2012 and 2015, almost 400 attended.

Tom Armstrong 2011 AAK DayIn keeping with the goal of promoting space science education at all levels, in April 2016, the foundation sponsored a colloquium for Wichita State University physics students.

In October 2016, the 8th annual evening AD ASTRA KANSAS Space Celebration was coordinated with the first-ever daytime Topeka Science and Technology Festival. This synergistic pairing led to a $10,000 matching grant for the 2017 event from the Science Festival Alliance (headquartered at the MIT Museum).  Besides the matching grant this accelerator award includes professional development for festival organizers and the opportunity to observe and learn from other science festivals nationwide.


Galaxy Forum

Since 2009, Ad Astra Kansas has held an annual Galaxy Forum at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson.  This educational event seeks to use space science as a way to enrich science education. This free event is geared towards teachers, students and the interested public.  Two popular topics have been “How to Interest Students in Astronomy” and “Chemistry Connections to the Universe (how the chemistry around us is related to the elements and compounds found in the stars and planets) along with lesson plans. Again, the event's success depends on the cooperation of the educational and scientific community who volunteer to give presentations.

Glen Fountain presentationIn August 2015, the Forum again melded cutting-edge space science with pride in Kansas.  A presentation was given by Kansas native, Dr. Glen Fountain, program director at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the NEW HORIZONS project on its historic flyby of Pluto just a month earlier. Attendance was standing-room-only in the Kansas Cosmosphere Discovery Room.

2016 Galaxy ForumIn 2016 another timely space mission, KEPLER, was the focus of the Forum. The featured presenter was Dr. Penny Warren, a Winfield native, who worked as a principle engineer on Kepler for Ball Aerospace Corp. which designed and built the spacecraft.


Kansas Scientist Trading Cards

150th logoIn 2011, AAK created a Sesquicentennial educational project:  SCIENCE in KANSAS—150 years and counting. In this year-long project 150 Kansas-connected individuals in science fields, both past and present, were featured for the purposes of inspiring Kansas students in STEM fields and also to honor Kansas’ science legacy.

This free project was done with trading cards posted on the Ad Astra Kansas website to be downloaded by teachers and students for classroom use or just for fun.  This project again was possible through hard work of the AAK team and the cooperation of educational and business entities across the state who took time to suggest individuals and provide biographical material. Almost 500 cards were given out through a variety of outreach events. Trading cards are still available on the Foundation's website.


Randall Chambers AAK Award


Chambers Award winners 2015Dr. Randall ChambersIn 2017, the tenth annual Randall Chambers Ad Astra Kansas Award will be given at the Wichita State University Annual Engineering Open House in the spring.

This $100 award is in memory of Dr. Randall Chambers, one of the founders of the organization, a NASA pioneer and professor emeritus at WSU who passed away in 2007. 

The award goes to project or design which best addresses safety issues in the aerospace engineering field.


Other Activities

Other activities over the years have included poster contests for middle school grades, displays at science museums, Kansas Day events at the Capitol in Topeka, other teachers’ information and astronomy events.As the work to raise Kansas’ scientific profile, and to promote STEM education in Kansas through the space sciences continues, the foundation looks forward to the opportunities the future might bring to help enrich science in Kansas.


This page was modified on 04/02/17.