As a lifelong space enthusiast who did not grow up in the shadow of the Apollo Program’s Saturn V rocket or the space shuttle, I am always amazed when I talk with local middle school students about Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Many have never visited this unique attraction! Within easy driving distance of their homes and schools, the visitor complex is a wealth of resources for classroom teachers and homeschooling parents—and with new exhibits opening almost every year, the opportunities for exploration keep growing.
One of the newest additions to the visitor complex is Mars Base 1, an immersive simulation that allows students to travel to the Red Planet and participate in a variety of STEM activities to keep the Mars base operating. Mars Base 1 is designed to challenge students in grades 5-9 and helps them develop their communication and collaboration skills, solve real-world problems, and learn how they can be part of the NASA story – not only in the years to come, but right now!
The adventure begins as our rookie astronauts check in and receive their gear from the quartermaster before launching to Mars. Once on the Red Planet, our rookie astronauts are assigned to duty rotations in each of the Base sectors: Operations, Engineering, and Life Sciences.
Each rotation challenges the trainees to work together to solve specific challenges. In Operations, they use touch-screen computers to monitor and control all functions of life on Mars Base 1, including communications and cartography, robotic rovers, and emergency management. In the Engineering lab, they team up to program a swarm of robots to clear debris off solar panels and generate energy for the base. In Life Sciences, they plant and harvest a variety of vegetables in our Botany Lab, gathering data that is shared with real NASA scientists as part of a series of ongoing experiments.
At the end of the day, our astronauts—having survived their tour of duty on Mars – are flown back to Earth, where they can download a copy of their training activity report and any video logs they recorded as a souvenir.
For those who’d rather stay on Earth, a general admission field trip is a great way to experience the NASA story. From the earliest astronauts to tomorrow’s pioneers, the history of our space program is told in fun, interactive tours and exhibits including the Rocket Garden, Apollo/Saturn V Center and Space Shuttle Atlantis®. To enhance your adventure, download the free Space Chase! Explore and Learn app and challenge your students to complete the missions that accompany each featured exhibit.
Who knows – the first man or woman to set foot on Mars might be sitting in a classroom on Earth right now, daydreaming of exploring another planet. Help those dreams become reality by taking a field trip to the only place on Earth from which human beings have blasted off on a voyage to another world and returned to share their adventures with us – Kennedy Space Center!