by Mike Lum
- How will you translate your experiences in
the Mojave to your students?
Obviously, I don't have students, yet...I'm
still a student myself. However, my target teaching audience will
be at a level where NASA really hasn't been concentrating much. Pretty
much all of the educational outreach programs are targeted at the
K-12 levels. My audience will probably be at least the junior or
community college level, and hopefully at the undergraduate or graduate
At the 13+ educational level, the challenges become less of
getting your students to "buy into the dream" and more
of keeping them focused on a career where they will be truly at the
forefront of their field. When they start looking at US Government general
pay scales, the incentive to work for NASA evaporates pretty
Realistically, the salary factor (or lack thereof) comes
into play for pretty much any pure science or research field. The
challenge of a teacher at the college level is in guiding their students
into fields where they will be happiest. The almighty Dollar goes
a long way toward satisfaction it that respect, but leads to a lot
of people questioning their career choice ten or so years down the
When we start putting people in Lunar and Martian
research colonies, we're going to want our best and brightest. The
additional incentive of simply making students aware of the incredible
opportunities, as well as the pure diversity and variety of the experiences
available to a pure research scientist, just might be enough to swing
some of those brilliant lights NASA's way.
"Yeah, you're only making $90k with a PhD and 5 years of experience,
but duuuuuuuude...you're working on MARS!" ;)
- Describe your personal changes in your outlook on science,
teaching, and science research?
Realistically, my outlook on any of the three didn't change much.
I entered the Spaceward Bound expedition with a very good idea
of what to expect, and wasn't disappointed.
If anything, I was able
to experience a much wider variety of sciences than I anticipated.
There was very little pure theoretical- and astro-physics (my personal
field) research, and much more chemestry, biology and geology. I
know that if I am going to pursue a career in astrobiology, I will
need to be well versed in more than just pure physics. If I found
out that I wasn't comfortable with the extended fields of study,
then perhaps I would need to re-assess my current scholastic goals.
Luckily, I greatly enjoyed every one of the research projects I participated
in, boding well for my future pursuits.
- What was most effective about how the Expedition
There were a couple of aspects which really stood
out as being well run, or as having the most potential. First,
the general structure of the program, the scheduling, facilities
and logistics were exceptional. We (the "teachers") had
every opportunity to get up to our necks in field research during
the day, and have the time to discuss what we did with our groups
after dinner. Yes, we didn't get much sleep, but it was a worthwhile
My small group, led by Geoff Hammond, was a critical
part of the program. Having the previous years' teachers as our
experienced group leaders, kept us focused on the real reason we
were in the Mojave, to relay our experiences on to our students.
With all the work we were doing during the day, it would have been
easy to become too immersed in the science and lose focus. Geoff
set the example, telling us about how he was able to translate
his experiences in the Atacama into lessons for his students, and
helping us to find ways to pass on our Mojave experiences to our
Finally, the science was outstanding. If the individual
showed interest, the researchers and scientists didn't pull any
punches when we joined their groups for the day. We had the option
to go out and do real research, not pre-made "toy" projects,
and get real results. If we showed interest, and the slightest bit
of competence, the research leads treated us as intellectual peers,
and gave us the opportunity to experience field work as it was meant
- What could be done differently with Spaceward Bound? What
other experiences could be offered?
MORE science less "fluff"!
The highlight of the program
is, after all, the scientific experience. The teachers being brought
in all have college degrees, most with a minimum of science curriculum,
and should be treated as full-fledged research assistants. Put us/them
to work! It doesn't even have to be all field work, either. Data analysis,
lab work, even some print research, finding similar published works,
are all parts of the scientific process, and should be part of Spaceward
I felt that much of the "fluff" such as the basic biology,
chemistry and geology should have been moved to the webcasts, or maybe
passed on by bringing the teachers in for a couple of days of "prep" work
at Ames before we headed out to the site.
Once we got on site, we should
have been able to jump right into the work being done by the scientists
Sure, the tours and "fun" activities were entertaining,
but if those types of activities are going to be included, they should
also have a strong science element as well. The baloon rides were
great (I would guess -- I never went), but how about letting the
teachers get in on the data analysis -after- the baloon lands. Did
anyone actually see the IR pictures that were taken?
The rover was a
fun toy, but how will mechanical and communication breakdowns, like
the ones we had in the Mojave be handled on Mars? What about the off-the
shelf components we were using? How will they be modified for extra-terrestrial
- Were the pre-expedition broadcasts helpful? Suggestions
Sort of. The first couple were very informative.
They had the solid science I was referring to above. Although, I
would have liked to have seen more reading assignments, possibly
even some more of the published papers. The homework was lightweight,
and didn't really force us to really learn about the topics. Even
if we opted to go into depth on the chosen material, particularly
the "science themes" homework,
the connection was never made between the research we did for the
broadcasts, and the work that was planned for the field.
I also have
a technical complaint. The resolution of the broadcast was low enough
that reading the slides was impossible. Sure, I ended up downloading
the Powerpoint presentations and following along that way, but it
There were also frequent sound issues, drop outs,
extraneous noises, and occasional cross-talk with busy signals and
Similarly, I would have liked to have seen the chat room
be a real chat room. I would have liked to have seen my fellow participants
there, and maybe had some discussions between us, instead of having
it set up as an e-mail service to the moderator.
- What did you get out of the personal interaction
with scientists and other teachers? How will it affect your
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a science geek. I actually found listening
to the late-night discussion between Drs McKay, Nienow and Boston
about the potential of using mathematical simulations to model the
geometric formation of plant growths to be one of the highlights
of my trip. It was complex math combined with computer modeling combined
with biology -- HELLO!? -- How cool is that?
Yeah, yeah...I know.
It takes a certain mindset to embrace your inner geek. The scientists
there had it down. The teachers had a different agenda. They were there
for their students. While many of them shared the enthusiasm for the
science, their first priority was to get this cutting-edge science
back to their students.
I can't recall how many times I heard one of
the teachers say "My
students would love this!" or "How can I do this experiment
with my kids back home?"
- How can NASA support the next group of teachers
and the Spaceward Bound program?
I think I covered the major part of my suggestions for the
science part of the program in my answers to #s 3 and 4 above.
the logistic support, we had it easy...Catered meals, hot showers,
indoor accomodations, there wasn't much more we could ask for. I drove
down from San Jose, so my transportation needs were minimal. However,
it seemed that the airport transfer process was reasonably well organized.
- Estimate the number of people who watched the webcast?
(school, family, etc.) Provide a breakdown of who watched?
I have no idea. I didn't expect to be a part of the broadcast,
as I don't have any students, so outside of a pointer to the Spaceward
Bound! page, i didn't really spread the word.
- If you are a part of an NES school or NEAT program, how
did this affiliation affect your experience on the expedition?
- What do you see Spaceward Bound evolving into in the
next 5 years? What would it look like?
I have no idea...seriously. So much depends on funding.
Bound seems like a very low budget program, which is both good and
bad. Good in that measuring it by the impact per dollar spent, probably
makes it one of the most effective programs in NASA's budget. Bad,
in that with such a small budget, the potential for a measurable impact
is small. While 40 teachers seemed like a lot when were were down in
the Mojave, out of the tens of thousands in the US, it's such a small
The evolution of the program should be driven by the needs of
the scientists. In order for the research programs to remain relevant,
and the teachers to bring back real experiences, the expedition
needs to ldetermine the best locations, facilities and timeframes
to support the scientific study, and only once a research skeleton
is arranged, should the educational part of the program be fleshed