BOZEMAN -- Seventy higher education students and faculty from Montana and across the country will travel to the Kennedy Space Center this weekend to watch NASA’s MAVEN mission launch scheduled for 11:28 a.m. Mountain time on Monday, Nov. 18.
The students and their faculty advisers won the opportunity through the National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition, which was held at Montana State University the last three years. Sixteen faculty members from Montana tribal colleges were selected through a different program, which allows them to participate in a NASA research collaboration-building opportunity, said Angela Des Jardins, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium.
“The MAVEN launch experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our student competition winners and tribal college faculty leaders. We are very excited both about the past accomplishments of the students and the upcoming NASA collaborations with the faculty,” Des Jardins said.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission will explore the upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions of the “red planet” with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to gain insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.
In addition to viewing the launch, the students and faculty will tour the Kennedy Space Center, attend workshops with NASA scientists and engineers, and give back to their Space Center hosts by working together to create an education program for K-12 student visitors.
Students attending the launch come from MSU, Bakersfield College in California, College of Charleston in South Carolina, Montgomery College in Maryland, San Diego State University in California and the University of Southern Indiana. The tribal faculty members come from Blackfeet Community College, Chief Dull Knife College, Fort Peck Community College, Stone Child College and Salish Kootenai College.
Each of the students viewing the launch logged an average of 300 hours designing, building, testing, operating, and analyzing data from a solar spectrograph that their teams entered in the national competition at Bozeman, Des Jardins said. Teams heading to the MAVEN launch won the competition in one of four categories: best design, best build, best science, or best presentation of results, in 2012 and 2013.
The National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition started as the higher education portion of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission, which involved several MSU faculty members and observes the sun to help understand sometimes disruptive solar wind and coronal mass ejections. While the IRIS support for the NSSSC program has concluded, MSGC continues to run the competition at a reduced level, Des Jardins said. The NSSSC is currently running its fourth year. The next competition will be held in May in Bozeman.
The competition program was so successful and so strongly requested by students that the MSGC is actively pursuing several funding avenues to continue offering the opportunity, Des Jardins said.
For the tribal college faculty attending the MAVEN launch, their work is just beginning, Des Jardins said. The goals of their travels to the Kennedy Space Center are 1) to spark interest and motivation for more Montana tribal college faculty to become involved in NASA research projects, either with Montana NASA EPSCoR or directly with NASA, and 2) to facilitate making connections for future tribal college-NASA research collaborations.
NASA involvement and research can take many forms, from getting students into NASA internships, to small student-led hands-on research projects, to larger faculty-led research.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org