While we are still 20 years out from a space expedition to Mars, NASA can already estimate the first of a small team of astronauts will take his or her first steps on Day 217 of the nearly two-year mission.
Even more incredible is the fact that this future astronaut is sitting in a high school physics or algebra class today. According to Jeffrey Kluger in a recent Time article, “One of them—someone whose identity is impossible to know right now but who is likely a late teen or young adult at large in the world already—would become the first person on Mars.”
Protons and coefficients never sounded more important. After all, STEM education is a national priority to which everyone is paying attention in order to build that pipeline of talent in the area of math and science.
Challenger Center is one such non-profit organization, backed by SAP, that is using STEM education as the foundation of their space-themed simulated learning modules they offer to children all over the globe. Founded in the aftermath of the Challenger accident 30 years ago by the crew’s families, the organization is committed to continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission.
In alignment to that commitment to education, the organization recently added a new component to their curriculum that allows kids to take their own “Expedition to Mars.” During their mission, students are fast-forwarded to the year 2076 and tasked to search for evidence of life and water on Mars, while keeping everyone safe.
“Our mission is to help make math and science exciting and less intimidating for kids,” said Lisa Vernal, senior director of communications at Challenger Center. “Our programs are anchored to hands on experiential learning with simulations in Mission Control and a Space Station, labs, and other activities that really expose them to real-life situations and possible future careers, and it’s all STEM-focused.”
To further enhance that hands-on learning experience and expose kids to the importance of math and science in their daily lives, Challenger Center also developed the EngiLearn program focused on oceanography studies. This five-day program, being piloted in 12 middle schools in Virginia this year and early 2017, is designed to get kids thinking about ocean and environmental sciences. Students explore why the population of monk seals is declining near Hawaii.
While there likely aren’t any monk seals on Mars, there is quite a bit of buzz in the space community about what water on Mars could mean back here on Earth. Its presence could signal life on the planet, and even if there’s not, it could help with fuel production and electricity on the home front, just to cite a few examples.
So whether we discover life on Mars, ways we can inhabit the planet, or methods to innovate what we’re doing here on Earth, what’s clear is that these things will start to take shape sooner than later. And these innovations will likely be spearheaded by a teenager.
The prospects are truly out of this world.
For more on how STEM programs can help shape our future, see The Future Looks Bright For STEM Education.