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Bear Valley STEM Students Join Engineers for Mars Landing

Nov. 27, 2018
Middle school students and an engineer from Lockheed Martin explore science activities.


Did your school’s career day feature “seven minutes of terror” in outer space? For Bear Valley International School (BVIS) students in the DPS CareerConnect program, career exploration took them straight to Mars. On Nov. 26 these students had front-row seats to watch the InSight spacecraft landing, alongside the engineers who designed, built and tested it at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado.

The engineers referred to the complex landing process as seven minutes of terror because after six months of traveling through space – and several years of preparation – they could only watch and wait seven long minutes to find out if the spacecraft had landed safely on the surface of the Red Planet, due to the time it takes for communications to travel from Mars back to Earth.

As part of the DPS CareerConnect program – in which students take skills learned in the classroom and apply them during on-the-job shadowing, internships and apprenticeship opportunities – sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students from BVIS also had the opportunity to participate in interactive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) exhibits and share lunch with mentors who matched their career interests.

“I really liked the virtual reality exhibit,” said sixth-grader Alexander Drewer. “It started off with me floating around in my space capsule, and I had to control the rover to collect samples on Mars.”

Thanks to STEM teacher Michael Goddard and his colleagues at BVIS, students were well-prepared to tackle the hands-on learning projects developed specifically for this experience by the Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT). “For the most part, in our STEM lab we do more computer science projects, but our last project was building bottle rockets – learning about how to launch them and how gravity affects launches,” said Goddard.

RAFT’s lessons were designed to help students understand the relationship between the science and math standards and what would happen during the Mars landing, through the use of everyday objects like a Slinky (to simulate sound waves) and a plastic syringe, string, nuts and bolts for kids to discover what it takes to put an object into orbit – and keep it there.

“I really just wanted to learn about Mars, because it’s an unexplored planet,” said BVIS sixth-grader Priscilla Aguilar. “My questions are about how we can build technology in this way and how it can be better in the future – actually, I am planning to work at NASA.

For the past four years, Lockheed Martin has provided DPS with grants of over $1 million to fund STEM programming in 57 K-12 schools – even expanding their support into early childhood education. BVIS was one of the first recipients of the STEM grant four years ago, and both Lockheed Martin and CareerConnect wanted to recognize the school for going above and beyond in their STEM work by inviting them to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.