Tomatoes on Mars. Peas on Earth

Ok, bad pun! But growing produce on Mars is quite a work in progress, by the folks at MarsOne. Tomatoes, especially.

Despite the Matt Damon agro project, growing food is not going to be easy, from accounts I have read. I know of a teacher who is germinating plants on moon-like soil.

In this blog post by Natasha Schön, she talks about biomass measurements, and the first tomato that grew in martian-simulated soil. Schön explain the need for more work on this:

One of the follow up experiments will be to investigate if the produced seeds are viable. It would only make sense to cultivate crops on Mars or the Moon if the follow up experiments are a success and the seeds are able to form new plants. If the seeds are not viable, a constant stream of new seeds would have to be flown in, making Mars farmers highly dependent on seed deliveries from Earth. 

And yes, they also tried growing peas.

And to justify the bad pun (in the title of this post), there is a children’s book titled “Peas on Earth.”

I believe it has a sustainability angle!


Mars Crew’s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’

The things you can do on ‘Mars’ now includes 3D printing, and video editing.

I’m talking about a simulated Mars Mission – the crew I have been in touch with for a project.

Sure they live on rations, since this is an 8-month stay in an isolated dome. But Zak Wilson even printed a star for their Christmas tree. Impressive with the video editing, too!

In case you are interested, this NASA-sponsored mission, known as the HI-SEAS Mission, is an 8-month research project to “determine what is required to keep a space flight crew happy and healthy during an extended mission to Mars.”

Related to this, is a very real NASA experiment to study the effects of someone living in space for one year, while comparing him to his identical twin, back on earth. This involves astronauts, Mark and Scott Kelley. The story broke this week in TIME magazine.

FLL Robotics Tournament Today

Poster_robotics_SaltRiverElementary“Learn from the past. Plan for the future.”

This was the title of our team’s poster with research around “How could we better communicate and learn from each other across different countries and…planets”

They have been communicating with Sophie Milam and Zak Wilson, two of the six crew members  spending eight months on a simulated Mars environment.

Here is a first look at their project poster with four members of XTreme Sharkbots.

Adding Maker-space component for Mars Day 2014

Exciting plans are underway for Mars Day 2014. It will be on October 29th. Much of it is hands-on.

We have a full day of events, starting a morning assembly.

  • Video-conference with space scientist – all classes will interact with speaker via smart boards
  • Grades 2-6 will take part in a brand new concept called ‘Maker Mars’ – a NASA-designed STEM project for students to design, and come up with scenarios for what it might take to build a community on Mars
  • Pre K, Kindergarten and 1st grade will be involved in a hands-on science-writing workshop, with award-winning author, Conrad J. Storad
  • We will also launch a poster competition in two weeks, so that the winners of the competition will be picked on Mars Day

NASA Teleconference about Curiosity, today

Excited to be part of  teleconference with NASA, today.

We have begun upping the ante when it comes to STEM-related work here at the school, and this series of teleconferences brings things into sharp focus, especially for me. Just a few months ago my students got to speak to an astronaut and experience a whole day of hands-on activities for Mars Day.

This event is about getting to probe the higher knowledge, of why the pursuit of Mars, and why scientists are on a race to study the topology and climate on the planet.

The rover, Curiosity has given us earthlings an instrument dashboard through which we could study the Martian surface. Not only through the advanced imagery, but by the chemical analysis.

The event is targeted at many different age groups.

Third- and fourth-graders will be challenged with figuring out why Mars is “the planet of choice” for NASA’s missions.

Fifth- to sixth-graders will look for “the similarities and differences in soil analysis” done on Earth and Mars. The conference notes say that students will (post-conference) be able to create a model of an “aeroshell” to simulate entry and descent of Curiosity.

All my students have looked at the descent pod —the so-called “powered descent” –and how the complicated landing was handled. Slowing down the descent of a one ton robot from 180 miles per hour to a mere 1.7 miles per hour, using the sky crane, above, was one of those feats that blew their minds, and made astronomy so exciting.

Cost of Living on Mars – fun infographic!

I’m  a huge fan of infographics. I’ve covered the topic for some time now –in my other blog.

So this one jumped out at me as a fun/fine way to look at how space exploration and space science might deal with the life on Mars question –given our fascination with the 4th rock from the Sun. One year’s supply, for instance is estimated to cost $13 million on Spacex ($42 on NASA). That’s transporting it and storing it thee.

The infographic was created by an outfit called Neo Mammalian Studios.

“What would you do if there’s life on Mars?”

My daughter’s class teacher, at St. Mary-Basha Catholic School, invited me to speak to the 5th grade classes on space science and the Mars rovers in particular. I am not a science teacher, but space science and aeronautics has become relevant material for my class –a happy coincidence of technology, computers and robotics.

Many months ago, I had listened to a long interview on NPR, where an engineer, Robert Steltzner spoke about his specialization, lowering the $400, 1980-pound Mars Curiosity rover onto the red planet. He didn’t think he was cut out for this kind of science, when he was much younger. (He recalled an elementary school principal telling him he wasn’t very bright!)

Steltzner’s solution, at the Jet propulsion Lab (JPL), was to design a ‘rover-on-a-rope’ –the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that a kid predicted to fail, often brings; the kind of ‘rocket science’ elementary school kids would dig.

To get back to the 5th graders, I was lucky to have with me the wheel of a rover – the replica wheel of the Opportunity rover. (We just learned that Opportunity is still working after 9 years!). They had a lot of questions, related to the batteries on this vehicle, how far it can travel etc. For many generations, space exploration was a rocket taking off in some distant place, and grainy pictures in the papers a few months later. Today, they can see much of this in real-time. The JPL site gives us the current time on Mars, as casually as if it was Indonesia. It sends back ‘scoop marks’ from its first jab at the Martian surface, as casually as one would send one’s grandparents a Facebook photo of a sandcastle on the beach.

The best question was what we would do if we did find life on Mars. I had never thought of that. Maybe I should ask the NASA folks. It depends on what we mean by a life form I guess. I applied the lens of cultural values to suggest that what we as humans would do when we find something or someone different. Would we assess it for its threat/benefit value? Would we have the ‘right’ to control or contain it?

This was a Catholic school. I asked them to consider how, as budding young scientists, their Christian values might influence their missions.