Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mission to Mars

When NASA’s Maven mission reached Mars on Sept. 21, many students in Gifted and Talented instructor Molly Nipper’s classroom at Bendwood School watched it all live on NASA TV.

The Maven robotic explorer fired its brakes that Sunday and it slipped into the red planet’s orbit after a 442-million-mile journey that began almost a year ago. Scientists now hope to answer one of the solar system’s biggest mysteries: What happened to the once Earth-like atmosphere of the red planet?
Although cold and dry today, surface features on Mars carved by flowing water attest to a much warmer, wetter past. What caused such dramatic change? Scientists think that climate changes on Mars may be due to solar wind erosion of the early atmosphere, and the MAVEN mission will test this hypothesis.

After the orbiter entered Mars orbit, Nipper’s Gifted and Talented kids joined thousands of others engages in a broad public education and outreach program. Leading outreach and learning efforts are the University of California’s Berkeley Space Sciences Lab and the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colo.

Bendwood’s Nipper, trained as a Maven Educator Ambassador, lead students in the official MAVEN Red Planet: Read, Write, Explore! program, a science, art, and literacy unit for elementary grades about Mars, the Maven mission, and the planet’s habitability, or ability to support life.

Despite the extreme distance and difficulty of travel, both the public and space scientists are once again raising the option of manned missions to Mars. Nipper’s Bendwood students read, wrote and conducted independent research on Mars –past and present. She teaches Gifted & Talented students in grades three through five.

In conjunction with the MAVEN spacecraft successfully entering Mar’s orbit, Nipper’s students pored over land and sea photographs of Earth and Mars, studying the differences and similarities of Mars and Earth geographical images. They measured in meters outdoors the distance between the Sun and Mars and its relative size using the scale model.

They tried to imagine 10 months of space travel like Maven had done. One of the most popular class activities incorporated engineering design process, with students designing their own Maven spacecraft model by using an iPad application called Spacecraft 3D.

The iPad application allows students to view an augmented, or 3D, reality image of the MAVEN spacecraft. “The students really enjoyed this unit on Space Exploration. It had real-world applications. The students favorite activity was using the Spacecraft 3D on the iPad. It helped them design their Maven spacecraft model,” Nipper said.

More information on MAVEN can be found at these sites: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/

As scientists receive data from the MAVEN spacecraft they will publish it on this website for the public: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/maven/main/


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