Joining Mars MAVEN Ambassador Program

MavenHave you ever just watched the last five minutes of a movie and tried to piece the rest of it together, backwards?

Crazy idea, right?  It’s one that Mars scientists are doing on the MAVEN mission.

MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN and the goal is to try and figure out what happened to Mars’ atmosphere millions of years ago.

Scientists know Mars at one time resembled Earth, with an atmosphere and flowing water.  With MAVEN, they will attempt to work backwards and find out how the atmosphere and dynamo was lost.

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the MAVEN Ambassador Class of 2015 and I attended a week-long workshop with 29 other teachers to find out more about this cool mission.  

Our teachers included scientists and engineers, many who were working on this mission!  We learned about Mars, did some very fun classroom activities, and are now certified ambassadors for NASA, which means we are tasked to educate fellow teachers about this mission!

The one thing you may be surprised to learn is that scientists vying to have their instruments on a mission get into heated arguments over which instruments should be chosen. Their goal is to “sell” their instrument to a panel and have it approved as part of that specific mission. It gets intense as one of the scientists who designed the Magnetometer told us! They are all so passionate about their scientific goals!

MAVEN’s three instrument packages provide comprehensive measurements essential to understanding the evolution of the Martian atmosphere.

MAVEN will determine the amount and types of gas particles escaping Mars’ atmosphere today, the processes that govern the escape, and how these escape processes have contributed to Mars’ climate evolution throughout its history. The three instrument suites include:

1. The Particles and Fields Package

Built by the University of California, Berkeley/Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) with support from the University of Colorado Boulder/Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC); contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet:

  • Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA)
  • Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)
  • Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC)
  • Solar Energetic Particle (SEP)
  • Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW)
  • Extreme Ultraviolet Monitor (EUV)
  • Magnetometer (MAG)

2. The Remote Sensing Package

Built by LASP; will determine global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere via remote sensing

3. Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS)

Provided by GFSC, the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) will measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions. 

If you have taken Earth-Space Science at FLVS, some of these instruments and terms may sound familiar!

In Earth-Space you learn about the layers of Earth’s atmosphere, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the Sun. Isn’t it cool that you are learning about  the building blocks of what NASA scientists are studying?

These people are the tops in their fields and were able to bring down this very complicated science to a level everyone could understand. The week was truly inspiring and I learned so many interesting things about our solar system. We had tours of Goddard Space Center by female scientists and engineers who were leading different missions. Women in STEM related professions are growing by leaps and bounds and these women are the pioneers for these careers.

So in one week, I sort of visited Mars via the MAVEN mission, saw the surface of the moon in Lunar Reconnaissance Mission Control, stood next to the Space Environment Simulator which is basically a huge vacuum to test instruments before we send them out to space, and even visited the Solar Room at Goddard Space Center for a visit to the surface of the Sun.

It definitely was an out of this world experience for this Earth-Space Science teacher!

Additional Resources:
2015 MAVEN Educator Ambassadors

Photo credit: Mars Orbit Insertion Highlights – NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 

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