NASA deputy to visit Ara for Mars programmes

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11 Jul 2016

Innovative technology programmes for secondary school students at Ara Institute of Canterbury have attracted the attention of NASA - the United States of America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Top NASA official Dr Dava J. Newman will visit Ara on 16 July to learn more about the institute's Mission to Mars holiday programme before whisking Ara STEM coordinator Miranda Satterthwaite off on the Sofia airflight.

A computer drawing shows a rover on Mars. Credit: NASA

As NASA's Deputy Administrator, Dr Newman is the second most senior person in the organization. Along with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, she is responsible for providing overall leadership, planning, and policy direction for NASA. The organization has just succeeded in getting the Juno spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and is poised to take its Next Giant Leap, developing new capabilities to send future human missions to an asteroid and Mars.

At Ara, Dr Newman will spend an hour talking to science and engineering staff and students from Ara and Christchurch schools about her experiences at NASA and as the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Her latest research efforts included advanced space suit design, dynamics and control of astronaut motion, mission analysis, and engineering systems design and policy analysis. She also had ongoing efforts in assistive technologies to augment human locomotion here on Earth.

NASA has supported the interactive holiday programmes at Ara, which build on previous work done by the institute to attract students to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and to consider careers in related fields.

"We were thrilled to have NASA contact us about our STEM programmes and offer us resources to complement our programmes," STEM Coordinator Miranda Satterthwaite said. "Dr Newman's visit is particularly exciting, as it is an once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet such a senior NASA official and a leading ambassador for women in science and technology."

Satterthwaite gets her own once-in-a-lifetime chance when she accompanies Dr Newman on a Sofia flight, returning just in time for the Ecobots Mars holiday programme. The sky above New Zealand is one of the clearest places in the world to observe and document stars, which is what the passengers will be doing during the 10 hour flight at 45,000 feet (11,000 feet higher than commercial aircraft).

 Ara will deliver Ecobots Mars, a free two day workshop for Year 9 and 10 students on 18 and 19 July that explores how robots can help us to access the viability of Mars to support life. This workshop has proven popular and is fully booked.

In October, Ara will deliver three free Mars-related programmes. The first is a two day workshop on Superfood, exploring preparation for a Mars trip through science- based nutrition, aquaponics and terraforming.

Next, the Mission to Mars programme will also focus on Year 9 and 10 students and on Mars geography, rocketry, habitat formation and terraforming, while aligning to Level 1 NCEA Science, Physics and Digital Technology standards.

And secondary school students will be spoilt for choice with a Rocketry programme for Year 9 and 10.

New Zealand has identified a lack of new graduates in these areas, with STEM areas identified as areas of shortage by Careers New Zealand. Initiatives have particularly focused on attracting female students and Māori and Pasifika students.

Mission to Mars is supported by the US Consulate and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through the Unlocking Curious Minds funding agreement to lift engagement with science and technology for harder-to-reach groups of New Zealanders. As part of the agreement, Ara will develop resources using Echo360 technology to enable remote access for students in rural areas, those with disabilities and those without dedicated engineering facilities at school to be part of the programme.

"All of these initiatives will help to build capability in New Zealand for a broader and more robust engineering and technology sector as well as strong partnerships for future scientific research." Satterthwaite said. 

Read more about Ara holiday programmes

Read more about NASA

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