On October 30, Mars Day took place at Salt River Elementary School (SRES) from the morning to the middle of the day. Events included a poster competition, lessons with hands-on activities, and a videoconference with retired U.S. Navy Commander and NASA astronaut John Herrington (Chickasaw). Classes took turns throughout the morning visiting the school library for the videoconference.
Mars Day is a way of bringing science and astronomy, space exploration, technology, robotics and engineering front and center into the school’s curriculum. For several years now, SRES has welcomed presenters from the Mars Education Program at Arizona State University, who provide lessons and hands-on activities to help students learn more about space exploration. With the Mars rover Curiosity sending back some amazing discoveries from planet Mars, it has helped make science more exciting for the students. The rover is a science lab on wheels.
During his video presentation, Herrington talked about growing up a Native American from the Chickasaw Nation, attending college, joining the Navy, being selected by NASA for the Space Shuttle program and becoming the first Native American in space. He returned to school in his late 20s to study engineering, which led to his career as a Navy pilot and eventually an astronaut for NASA. During his talk, Herrington showed photos and videos that were taken while he was in the Space Shuttle Endeavour and outside the vehicle making a space walk.
He mentioned the recent movie Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and how it was very similar to what astronauts do in real life, but real life is not as dramatic as the movie.
Students asked Herrington questions, such as at what age he started thinking about becoming an astronaut; what made him become one; how astronauts are able to eat, drink or move around in space; and what everything looked like from so high above the Earth. He showed an aerial photo of the Community as viewed from space.
When asked about his space suit and how much it weighed, Herrington answered 300 lbs. and explained that astronauts need help to get into the suits. SRES student RedCloud Webster wrote to NASA in 2011, and was given a special opportunity to talk with Herrington one-on-one. “Have you ever seen meteor showers in space?” asked Webster. Herrington answered yes, he had seen them very close up.
“Follow your curiosity,” said Commander Herrington to the youth.
After the videoconference, staff from the ASU Mars Space Flight Facility talked about the work they do on the ASU campus. The SRES Robotics Club visited ASU to tour the Mars facility a while back.
Students learned about which planets can be seen at this time of year, such as Venus, which can be viewed in the sky looking toward the south. It takes three days for a space shuttle to get to the moon; reaching Mars, on the other hand, takes three years of travel. Staff asked the students if they would like to take a trip to Mars, which they said may be a possibility someday.
When the ASU staff asked the students what size life the Mars rovers are looking for, fifth-grader Emmeligh Romo answered germ-sized. Romo was the only student who has ever answered that question correctly, out of all the schools and facilities that the ASU Mars Education program has visited.