NASA Challenges Students to Follow Path of Ancient Explorers
10.31.2008
 
Petroglyph of a Polynesian double-hulled canoe found on the Big Island of Hawaii. These canoes were the vessels used to explore the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Jonas Dino Petroglyph of a Polynesian double-hulled canoe found on the Big Island of Hawaii. These canoes were the vessels used to explore the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Jonas Dino

Before humans contemplated charting a path to the stars, early explorers used the stars to chart routes to the unknown: new fishing grounds, ports of trade and uncharted lands.

The NASA Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission and NASA Quest are inviting students in grades 5-8 to participate in part one of the NASA Quest Challenge: "Exploration Through Navigation." This two-part challenge asks students the question, "How will you stay on course?"

The first part of the challenge follows the lead of the ancient Polynesians, who charted a course from the Big Island of Hawaii to the Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, a treacherous 4,500-mile route across open ocean. These early navigators loaded their families and meager provisions into ocean-going canoes with the stars in the sky as their guide. The slightest navigation error meant almost certain doom.

The Quest challenge calls for the students to recreate the course taken by these early explorers. Quest will post weekly online questions to challenge students' navigation skills. Outside of the classroom, students will track the star Enif and submit their observations to Quest. Observations from students around the world will be compiled and posted on the Web so that students can determine if there is a relationship between the latitude of the observation site, and the star’s altitude at its highest point in the sky.

In the spring 2009, part two of the "Exploration Through Navigation" Challenge will task students to chart a course for the LCROSS spacecraft to travel from Cape Canaveral in Florida to one of the moon’s polar regions. Students will couple the Earth-based navigation skills they learned during the first part of the challenge with space-based navigation skills to develop navigation strategies for reaching the desired permanently shadowed crater on the moon's surface to begin the search of water ice. NASA scientists and engineers, who are helping chart the course of human exploration to the stars, will review the strategies.

At the culmination of the "Exploration Through Navigation" Challenge, students will be asked to compare and contrast navigation methods used on Earth and in space.

The first challenge Webcast is 11 a.m. PDT, on Monday Nov. 3, 2008 on the Quest Website.

Didn't register yet? Don't worry, it's not too late to join take the challenge. Registration is still open!

To learn more and to register for this challenge visit: http://quest.nasa.gov/challenges/lcross2/index.html