Relaunching his brands – Musk puts excitement back into Space science

A red sports car, a rocket and a trip to Mars. Many generations from now that’s what some might consider the birth of the new space age.

Last afternoon’s liftoff of ‘Falcon Heavy‘ – the largest rocket by far to be launched –by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, was by all accounts, a spectacular event combining science, savvy marketing, and enough material to get the attention of many audiences: Space geeks, Tesla enthusiasts, the international space community…and Mars watchers. Nothing like a live stream of the event, that included the dummy’s view from the Tesla roadster!

From a marketing perspective, think of it a a relaunch of three brands:

SpaceX: The ambitious company is not just a record holder of the biggest, baddest rocket with a retrievable booster (one didn’t land successfully), but an international ‘agency’ in itself. It can carry a spaceship – one taking humans back to the Moon, and later to Mars.

Tesla: Imagine the opportunities, to sell car that has the pedigree of the first car in space…Fascinating backdrop to an otherwise boring auto industry.

Elon Musk himself. Perhaps –just perhaps– he may have a bigger agenda in positioning himself as more than an entrepreneur.

 

 

SPACE DAY – Our 5th year of ‘slipping the surly bonds of earth’

In 2012, when I put together Mars Day at our school, I could tell there was a huge appetite for all things space-related. After all, the Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ had landed on the red planet a few months before.

space-dayThis year, our 5th year, we are broadening our lens, so to speak. We are calling it SPACE DAY. It is on Oct. 19th at Salt River Elementary.

I am so fortunate to have so many groups supporting me. From a NASA scientist, to Orbital ATK (formerly Orbital Science), and several groups from the School of Earth and Space at Arizona State University. Also a team who keeps bringing back StarLab, the inflatable planetarium. But wait, there’s more – a surprise guest from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the NASA group prepping for Mars.

There are several break-out sessions, some that will happen concurrently. We may even have a few real rocket launches outside! This year two of my colleagues will  conduct hands-on sessions that add art and design to the mix. My goal has always been to add more of the ‘A’ to the S.T.E.A.M programs.

Almost every week it’s hard to escape news of audacious new programs pertaining to vehicular designs, space colonies, cosmonauts, or discoveries about comets, asteroids, and planets –the ones we know, and those that are still to be named.

One day of the year just scratches the surface, don’t you think?

As Rosetta mission ends, Osiris Rex soars

As an asteroid and comet watcher, the Rosetta mission designed to swing around and land on a comet ’67P’ fascinated me. I also used in for a class on animation last year, so that 6th graders could learn about the mission while learning to animate the path of Rosetta. The European space agency lost contact with Rosetta at 11:19 a.m. GMT today when the craft’s probe ‘impacted’ the comet, having reached it two years ago, on August 2014.

67p-last-images

This year, my students focused on Osiris Rex, the NASA mission to study the asteroid Bennu. marsed_sept2016By some coincidence, this was one of the big themes of the Mars Education conference I attended at ASU last Saturday.)

Students have looked up facts about the mission and next week will begin animating the path of Osiris Rex.

Osiris Rex will reach Bennu sometime in 2018, and its probe will do something more daring, – use a probe to scoop up a bit of the asteroid’s material, while it is still moving! Fascinating to think of the planning and steps this involves.

NASA ‘flowing’ water on Mars newsflash, messes the plot

I’m sure many wanna-be Martians (and there is a training program for this) are breathing a sigh of relief to know that one does not have to go the Matt Damon route to stay alive on Mars.

Today NASA announced that H2O from hydration salts means that it is flowing –as evidenced by image analysis from the Reconnaissance Orbiter. It also thickens the plot for may *young* scientists to whom we put this question: What would you take on a long trip to the Red Planet.

Mars Day is around the corner at my school. This will certainly be a topic that comes up. Maybe we ought to contact MarsOne. Bas Lansdorp, if you get a chance to see this, I’d love to chat with you about speaking to my students.

 

Skype with a rocket scientist – Today’s STEM Talk at Salt River Elementary

It’s funny how an ‘old’ technology comes to the rescue, even in education that’s all about Ed-Tech.

I’ve used Ustream, am experimenting with Stre.am, one of the newest shiny objects for collaboration and live-streaming. WebEx is not feasible for legal reasons, which is why Skype has come to the rescue. Skype – that grandaddy of web conferencing tools– is old in Internet years! Released in 2003, it came in a different era from our one-click chat apps that are morphing into lean, mobile must-haves. It’s still a trusty, if not crusty application.

Anyway, for this ongoing series of STEM Talks, I am pleased to be able to connect my school with an eminent NASA scientist, Dr. Ashwin Vasavada. He is the lead scientist on NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission, and comes to us via the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. For those of us with one-planet experience, know this: Ashwin participated in Galileo mission to Jupiter, and Cassini mission to Saturn.

My students have some background to Curiosity, because of robotics, and some have seen the full-scale model of this Humvee-sized robot at ASU. I’ll be curious (I know, bad pun!) to see how they engage with him.

Place: Computer & Technology Lab

Time
: 4:00 pm

Light refreshments will be served.

Check out previous STEM Talks here, and here.

Communicating with crew on ‘Mars’ – Text-To-Speech

Those who know me, know I’m a follower of all things in space – from watching the International Space Station fly by, to the latest maneuvers of the latest Mars Rover.

So this week, it was a chance to communicate with Jocelyn Dunn,one of the 6 inhabitants of a Mars simulation mission, going on in Hawaii. The project, is called HI-SEAS (which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation).

The reason: I’m putting together Mars Day a now-annual event at my school. I thought my students would get a kick out of talking to the folks who are paving the way for humans on the red planet. Or, to put it another way, they’ve seen a lot about the bot that got there; now it’s time to communicate with Homo sapiens!

Jocelyn and the rest of the HI-SEAS crew began their ‘analog simulation’ last Friday, inside a 1000-square foot geodesic dome.(Another crew member, Zak Wilson is also blogging the stay.)

HI-SEAS Dome

Image, courtesy hi-seas.org

So what is it like to be practically isolated from the rest of the world? Isolated as in no phone calls. Now they do have access to the Internet (!) so I will be asking her these questions in a few days. Yet, to simulate the real thing, the crew’s email is subject to a 20-minute delay.

The fun part is planning for Jocelyn and her crew to answer questions from my students. After a couple of back-and-forth (time delayed) she came up with a good solution: We would send her the questions via email, and they would record their answers on a video, and send it back to us in time for Mars Day!

It will give new meaning to ‘Text-to-Speech’!

Here are links to other crew members

Mars Day –and a chance to talk to an astronaut!

This year I’m expanding Mars Day (an event I started last year) to the whole school, thanks to the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU, and NASA.

Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.

I love being able to tell them that by the time they are my age, it’s most likely that a human would be walking on Mars. I liberally borrow from Buzz Aldrin’s breathtaking vision of that time (in “Mission To Mars“) where he shows us blueprints for how we would be “a two-planet species”!

Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!

If we could chat with astronauts on the space shuttle, or get a live feed from a robot on Mars, this should not be complicated.

Stay tuned!

‘Face time’ with NASA brings science to life

The fourth rock from the sun is a great place to take students –even if it’s a virtual field trip.

Mars Day turned out to be quite an event last week. With a little help from a remarkable piece of engineering, called a Robonaut to talk about. More about this in a moment.

The Mars event came about after some serendipitous discussions with NASA. I asked them out of the blue if we could have someone from the Space Station call in to my class. (Yes, I entertain big, hairy audacious goals!) I thought the folks with more Ph.ds than you could shake a stick at would never get back to me, but within a few days, someone did. Cassie Bowman must be accustomed to such calls, and quickly began to connect the dots.

Turns out the Mars Space Flight Facility, at Arizona State University, has researchers working on the Curiosity Rover. Cool stuff involving software that lets that SUV-sized robot communicate with earthlings.

A robot was great point of focus.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, ASU loaned me the wheel of the elder rover, Opportunity, which we displayed in a bed of red rocks, in the library. In my classes, sprinkled with space science and robotics, there’s nothing like a titanium wheel to get children to ask questions.

As for the day itself, we planned it around a series of hands-on sessions with three groups of students – fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Sheri Klug-Boonstra who set up the activity asked students to identify a mystery planet from boxes of artifacts brought back from a hypothetical team of explorers. They analyzed rocks, slivers of fur, shards of metal-like substances, and twigs. Teams were asked to predict what kind of planet this was, and what kind of life it must have sustained. Results were collected on Post-It notes and reviewed.

If this seemed like a great way to see science as a series of discoveries, it was book-ended by two other events:

  • A poster competition that we launched ten days ahead.
  • A video-conference with Kody Ensley.

Never heard of Kody? He’s a young Native American who was recently hired by NASA. Kody works on the Robonaut project at the Johnson Space Center, designing a humanoid robot that can work side-by-side with astronauts.

Something magical happens when students who tend to see a planet, and the space station, as way out of their reach, connect with a “real” scientist, in the middle of this fascinating science. They asked him about why he took to science, and what planet he would send the next robot to, if he had a chance.

We used FaceTime, an iPad app that lived up to its name, making the distance between Houston, Texas, and Scottsdale, Arizona disappear. It could have easily been a downlink from the space station.

This story, cross-posted from my education blog, Voices On!