Blogs  |  6.6.2017

D.C. Students Experience ‘Earth to Mars’ STEM Program

Challenger Center invited thirty-ninth grade students from E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington D.C to attend the 2017 Humans to Mars Summit and participate in a three-part STEM program. The three-part STEM program – Earth to Mars – was developed in partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne Foundation, Boeing, and Orbital ATK  and included a presentation from a Boeing engineer, a simulated SLS launch, and an engineering design activity.

The students started the experience by listening to the morning sessions of this year’s Summit, hearing about the current Mars program and what’s next in the space industry’s plan to get to Mars. After the summit, the students met Tony Castilleja, a business development professional focused on Boeing’s space exploration business. Mr. Castilleja shared his journey from middle school student to Boeing engineer and talked about how he was inspired to design the next-generation spacecraft. Students also interacted with professionals from our partners Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Orbital ATK throughout the day.

After listening to Castilleja’s journey, students were introduced to the next part of the STEM program. Gathered in teams of five, students used Challenger Center’s new technology platform, EngiLearn, to launch a simulated Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and send a payload to Mars.

“Commander, the engine team has new flight data” could be heard across the room as the students used their teamwork and problem-solving skills to communicate with each other.

The students tracked storms and the trajectory of the SLS, and ensured that the communications and electrical systems were performing as expected during and throughout the launch.

Once the E.L. Haynes students successfully accomplished their goal to launch the payload to Mars, Challenger Center introduced them to phase three of the program. In this engineering challenge, students were asked to build and design a Mars habitat. They started by discussing ideas as a group, including the must-have components of a future space habitat. A fitness center, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom were some of the basic necessities all students agreed upon.

After agreeing on the critical elements, the ninth-graders separated into teams, one which designed the interior of the habitat by using Microsoft Surface Pros and the other which built the outside by using 3D printing pens. With these tools, the students brought their ideas to life.

Earlier in the day, Challenger Center President and CEO Lance Bush hosted a STEM education panel, Inspiring the Martians of Tomorrow, to discuss what is happening and what needs to happen to prepare today’s students to become the generation responsible for setting foot on Mars. Panelists included Janet Ivey, Creator of Janet’s Planet; Jeri L. Swogger, Director of Elementary Instruction in Frederick County (VA) Public Schools; and Robin Thurman, Director of Workforce and Industrial Base Development, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA).

A huge thanks to our partners for making this exciting day possible!