Maine has become the first state in the nation to offer scholarships for a new middle school science course that takes students on a simulated mission to the International Space Station, where they learn science, technology, engineering and math concepts and skills as if they were part of the station crew.

In collaboration with the Maine Space Grant Consortium and the Perloff Family Foundation, the Virtual High School is currently offering 12 scholarships for Maine students interested in participating in Space Station Academy. The application deadline is Oct. 15.

Space Station Academy was developed by VHS, a Boston-area nonprofit that provides schools with online learning programs, in collaboration with Maine teachers, the Maine Space Grant Consortium and the Technical Education Research Center, a nonprofit research and development organization.

“This course offers realistic training and on-orbit experiences to make the students feel as if they are real astronauts,” said VHS Development Director Dan Barstow. “And we’re giving students a chance to have a glimpse of life on the International Space Station.”

The 15-week course includes interactives, videos, interviews with astronauts and updates from the real ISS. The five course modules cover three main phases. The first phase is “preflight training” in which students explore the design, structure and primary objectives of the ISS. They also learn about orbits, launch vehicles and life in space. Next, students experience a simulated launch to the ISS in the Soyuz, where the crew welcomes them.

The next few modules cover the second phase, “on-orbit explorations.” Students complete a variety of activities, including an investigation of the effects of prolonged weightlessness via an experiment to visualize loss of bone density and to devise an exercise plan based on the physiological barriers of space travel. Students use cutting-edge tools to observe Earth from space, and complete several virtual missions around the station, such as building a robotic arm and performing a spacewalk to repair a broken solar panel.

The final module is the “post-flight” phase, where students face the challenge of reentering the atmosphere. They review technologies and skills associated with safely dealing with the friction of reentry and the methods used for landing safely on Earth. As a culminating activity, they prepare a Mission Space Report that showcases the benefits of space exploration in the domains of life science, Earth science and physical science.

Students can participate in Space Station Academy during regularly scheduled study hall sessions, in a classroom period that their school allocates for the course or as an independent study at home. The course requires about five hours per week for the duration of the semester-long course.

VHS also offers a shorter four-week version of the course, as an extracurricular activity. Students will be required to hone and expand their STEM skills by using mathematics and computational thinking, analyzing and interpreting data, planning and carrying out investigations, using evidence in arguments and much more.

For more information on scholarships for Maine’s Space Station Academy, visit SpaceStationAcademy.org or contact Dan Barstow at DBarstow@thevhs.org or by calling (978) 235-3300.