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Spaceward Bound: North Dakota 2009

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Course Dates: June 22-26, 2009

Course Audience:  K-12 teachers and college faculty, particularly those teaching Earth Science and Physical Science.  Enrollment limited to ~15 teachers.

Course Overview:
The 2009 Spaceward Bound Red River Valley expedition focuses relating eastern North Dakota's glacial landforms to similar landforms on Mars. The course uses drilling, trenching, and other types of analyses to examine landforms identified during the 2008 summer field course (NDSU Geology/Biology 695)  as primary targets for further investigation; these include fluvial landforms, the glacial lake Agassiz strands, the Sheyenne River “delta” and meltwater trenches, moraine uplands, kettles, and a major esker system.  Chronologies of these features will be tied into research and technologies utilized at NDSU’s Optical Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) laboratory.

In this year's course, teachers will work directly with NASA, NDSU, and UND scientists in the field, learn about glacial landscapes, and understand how the glacial landscapes on Earth are useful to understanding the geologic history of Mars. The instructional staff plan to focus on eskers as a possible site for a search for life on Mars and will gather samples for geological and biological analyses. One planned research component will be to investigate whether or not the biota inside an esker reflects the depositional conditions or the present-day environment. Additionally, field testing of pressurized spacesuit technology from the University of North Dakota will also be performed using a landform under field testing conditions.
Pre-selected field sites will provide opportunities for studies in regional geology, field sampling and statistical analyses, and environmental studies. Participants will be given "hands-on" instruction in field-oriented geology as well as consideration of these sites for Earth analog studies of the Moon and Mars.

Semester Hours: Three.

Course support:  All instructional costs are covered by ND Space Grant and by NASA.

Costs to Teachers:
$150 (recording fee @ $50/SH).  K-12 teachers will receive a stipend, anticipated to be ~$300 (sponsored by ND Space Grant at UND and NASA).  Field transportation and instructional materials are included.  Lodging and food are NOT provided.

Teachers need not be enrolled in a graduate degree program to take this course. However, you must be enrolled at the NDSU.  See the NDSU Graduate School bulletin for more information on the quick and easy “Non-degree enrollment” procedures.


  • Field transportation will be by rental vans. We are anticipating that the first half of the week will be based in the Fargo area, and the last half of the week in the Grand Forks area. Field sites will be concentrated in southeastern North Dakota and in Grand Forks County, North Dakota.
  • The course starts at NDSU, and ends at UND, and full participation in all aspects of the course is expected if credit is expected.
  • Vans will return either to Fargo or to Grand Forks each night.


  • All participants must be public or private school educators (K-20) whose instruction is focused on STEM disciplines.
  • Participants should be physically prepared to undertake moderate amounts of hiking and hill climbing.
  • Participants are expected to carry their own medical/disability insurance.
  • Students will be asked to sign a form that allows NASA to post their photo images on the Spaceward Bound website

Participants will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Participation in the field trip, as evidenced by interest, cooperation, and activity.
  • Individual assignments to be completed during the field course (mapping, statistical analyses, etc.).
  • Field notebook of observations to be maintained for the trip.
  • Lesson plan (minimum of five class days) to be prepared by each teacher immediately following the trip.
  • E-mail projects, to be assigned as part of the course pre-expedition training and follow-up.

Instructional Staff:

Donald P. Schwert, PhD, Professor of Geology, NDSU
Kenneth E. Lepper, PhD, Asst. Prof. of Geology, NDSU
Christopher P. McKay, PhD, Planetary Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center
Jon Rask, M.S., Space Life Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center (Trip Coordinator)
Pablo de Leon, Research Associate, UND Space Studies
Suezette Bieri, Program Coordinator, ND Space Grant

Contact for Further Information or to Register for the Course:

    Jon Rask
    NASA Ames Research Center
    Building 239 Room 238
    Moffett Field, CA 94035
    Phone: (650) 604-5363
    Fax: (650) 604-3954

Tentative Syllabus

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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
Students Contact: Loretta Hidalgo
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe