NASA Ames Re-opens Door to Discovery and Adventure
Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, and they will need us to give them an education system that inspires rewarding academic achievement. To help meet this challenge, NASA launched the Summer of Innovation initiative to not only promote science and math education, but also to let students experience NASA’s missions and technology programs.
As part of this commitment to educational excellence, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., recently re-opened its doors to a new and improved Ames Exploration Encounter (AEE) student facility, featuring hands-on science and math activities geared toward middle school students.
“By renovating the Ames Exploration Encounter student facility, we have set a clear goal to support student achievement in science and math education. This facility draws on the excitement of NASA to create new learning opportunities of exploration and discovery outside the classroom,” said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must commit to an exemplary education system worthy of our future workforce.”
The Ames Exploration Encounter offers a unique educational program designed to inspire positive attitudes about science, technology, engineering and math for students in the 4th through 6th grades.
Located in a renovated six-foot-by-six-foot supersonic wind tunnel building, the AEE makes math and science curricula come alive. Students experience science from a different perspective as they realize its presence in their lives. By using NASA’s missions to motivate and inspire them, students are given the opportunity to learn the necessary tools to become real pioneers and innovators.
Students visiting the AEE are treated to a variety of rich and exciting educational experiences, including hands-on activities exploring physics, flight, space science and Earth science. AEE’s recent renovation expands on these themes and introduces even more opportunities to explore and experience them.
To challenge their math skills, students can land a large aircraft in a variety of simulated conditions. They can select, create, or review a problem at one of 12 new computer stations. The computer learning module is called “Smart Skies,” which enables students to explore and resolve distance-rate-time conflicts in realistic air traffic control problems, using decision-making and proportional reasoning skills. After completing an online lesson, students apply newly learned skills in an effort to "beat the clock" while solving the problem.
Students also can learn about the moon. Although it is the most familiar object in the night sky, the moon still has many mysteries. Images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter are projected onto a large touch screen using an interactive computer program that shows the lunar surface in remarkable detail, including features as small as one and a half feet across.
Peter Robinson, a computer scientist at Ames, upgraded the program with the large touch screen and accompanying technology. “I wanted to bring more modern technology into the facility. These touch screens provide a real sensory search for science,” said Robinson.
Unlike here on Earth where weather can erode crater impacts, craters on the moon remain indefinitely. Student players are invited to count and map craters on the moon, which helps identify the age of the crater. Another new AEE feature that helps students explore the surface of the moon is a rover lander that travels across a simulated lunar regolith surface. Students can remotely operate the rover and test its capabilities, such as lunar surface mobility, excavation, and its resilience to the dusty and abrasive lunar surface environment.
NASA’s 2009 Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission (LCROSS) has its own mock-up mission control center, where students learn about the LCROSS mission, and the communication process for other missions.
In addition, a 2013 NASA mission called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) features an interactive computer display that explains the mission and a mission instrument, called the spectrometer. This robotic mission will study the moon’s atmosphere and the fine grains of dust made from the moon’s surface rocks. To study the moon’s atmosphere, scientists will use the spectrometer to look at different particles in the moon’s atmosphere, which breaks up their reflected light into multiple colors. These spectra are like fingerprints, each atom or molecule species depicts its own identity.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) mission also has a computer display. It describes the SOFIA airborne observatory as a Boeing 747 airplane fitted with a 2.5 meter infrared telescope. Flying state-of-the-art instrumentation at altitudes above 40,000 feet, the observatory will study astronomical phenomena in our solar system, galaxy and the nearby universe. To illustrate the difference between visible and infrared light, live images of the viewer standing and moving in front of the display’s hidden cameras are projected onto two screens, one depicting visible light, the other infrared red light.
“The AEE exists to engage and challenge students and their teachers to participate in the excitement of discovery. These young students may soon become our nation’s capable engineers, scientists, researchers, explorers and savvy leaders,” said Tom Clausen, education specialist at NASA Ames. “The renovated AEE demonstrates NASA’s commitment to keeping its doors open to our students and the fulfillment of their dreams.”
For more information about NASA’s Summer of Innovation, visit:
For more information about Smart Skies, visit:
For more information about NASA Ames, visit:
Ruth Dasso Marlaire
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.