Year 9 Mission to Mars

A few weeks ago the Year 9 Mission to Mars students were involved in a day-long excursion to the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) situated in Strathmore. The VSSEC excursion provided a learning experience for students in the Martian environment and provided an excellent opportunity to experience the roles of an astronaut sent to space and their required jobs as part of the team. 

We had to keep in mind two clear questions throughout the course of the day: “What is the past, present and future of Mars?” and “Why do we care?” These were answered in detail through the numerous exercises we did on the excursion. 

The program required the classes to be split into halves for the first half of the day, with one group performing an onsite learning experience of being astronauts on Mars whilst the second group ran mission control and was given the opportunity to face expertise in how the mission control teams work around the clock behind machines and desks to make sure that a space travel expedition runs smoothly. In the early afternoon, the groups were swapped and learnt the skills of the opposite encounter enabling us to learn about both sides of an astronomy-related job. 

Students were assigned different roles in both of the experiences. Whilst on the Martian land, we were assigned a role from a range of different roles like commanders, engineers, geophysicists and surface biologists who were controlled by a range of different engineers, officers and managers back at mission control like PDSE (Payload Deployment Systems Engineer), Mission Director and BSO (Biological Sciences Officer). On the field, we were required to fulfill tasks like testing rocks for their pH level and carbonation and detecting the movement of tectonic plates and wind speeds to ensure a quick response if a danger like a sandstorm or an earthquake was to hit, the crew would be indoors and safe.

A lunch break followed after which the cohort was divided into their roles and responsibilities and performed various different experiments regarding their roles which gave us further insight into the past and future of Mars. Experiments like drilling rocks for physical ores, testing the soil for advantageous chemicals and making a presentation summarising our findings were conducted. We found that ores and particles of metals like copper, opal and potassium were commonly found on the Martian surface. 

On this excursion, we learnt a lot about the composition of Mars and how it used to look several centuries to millions of years ago and what it holds in the future and how Mars can be of great use to humans in the future in areas like architecture, medical use and also agriculture. All of the Year 9 MTM members thank the Victorian Space Science Education Centre greatly for having us there for the day and introducing us to such intriguing topics and inspiring us.

Ria Anand 
Year 9