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Mission to Mars gives children new view of universe

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Across the back row: Mychelle Simms, Mesa Elementary School teacher, Ronda Cole, Kirtland Air Force Bae, N.M., Lt. Col. James Lewis, 27th Mission Support Group deputy commander, Rhonda Seindenwurn, Clovis Municipal School superintendent, Jane West and Col. Scott West, 27th Fighter Wing commander, visit with a team from one of the habitats on display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Janet Taylor-Birkey)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Across the back row: Mychelle Simms, Mesa Elementary School teacher, Ronda Cole, Kirtland Air Force Bae, N.M., Lt. Col. James Lewis, 27th Mission Support Group deputy commander, Rhonda Seindenwurn, Clovis Municipal School superintendent, Jane West and Col. Scott West, 27th Fighter Wing commander, visit with a team from one of the habitats on display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Janet Taylor-Birkey)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The children who participated in the Mars Mission Flight began planning for the trip months ago. The students had to weigh the food they brought with them and trash they took away. Classes were teamed up with other schools and each team was graded on their performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Janet Taylor-Birkey)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The children who participated in the Mars Mission Flight began planning for the trip months ago. The students had to weigh the food they brought with them and trash they took away. Classes were teamed up with other schools and each team was graded on their performance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Janet Taylor-Birkey)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- On April 7, Cannon’s Hangar 208 briefly changed its mission from storing F-16’s to setting up a Martian colony. 

As 350 fifth-grade students converged in the hangar to participate in Mars Missions Flight (MMF), they were grouped with children from other schools. 

MMF is a phase of the Air Force STARBASE La Luz Academy, a DoD program sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland and managed by New Mexico Tech, said Ronda Cole, Air Force Research Lab, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. 

There was no time for shyness; these students had a job to do and only one hour in which to get it done. 

While the element of competition exists to build the Mars colony in just one hour, it is with each other, not against each other, said Gerald Mora, program manger, Air Force STARBASE La Luz Academy at Kirtland AFB. 

In this project, every fifth grade student can learn there is a place for them in space as they construct a colony to house scientists and engineers who will build and maintain an imaging station on Mars, said Mr. Mora. 

“Our goal is to raise student interest and enthusiasm for science, math, engineering and technology careers through unique, fun, hands-on experiences. The Mars Missions Flight provides these types of activities for fifth grade students,” said Ms. Cole.
Onsite at Hangar 208, students began the final countdown by giving a technical briefing, after which they are given the go ahead to build their colony, said Mr. Mora. 

But it has taken six months of work with students at other schools, via e-mail, to plan and design their habitat before getting to the “all systems go” stage. 

After constructing and linking the habitats, students give a saga of their journey to Mars. This year, many student groups incorporated music into their saga by singing and playing guitars. 

But it’s not just student and teacher participants who are involved in the production of MMF; Missions to Mars garners a number of outside volunteers and distinguished visitors. 

On the Cannon level, volunteers 2nd Lts. Jarret Flexman, 27th Logistics Readiness Squadron, and Benjamin Sears, 27th Contracting Squadron, worked the logistics of securing Hangar 208 for MMF. 

The lieutenants provided a clean & safe hangar from both man-made and natural hazards, and provided volunteers for judging, safety and cleanup, along with equipment needed to host MMF, said Lieutenant Flexman. 

“Everyone’s coordination guaranteed a safe and successful mission which ensures a strong bond with the community and local area. This year was even more special due to several [distinguished visitor] school board members coming to view the Mars Mission,” said Lieutenant Flexman. 

One DV to visit MMF was Clovis Municipal School Superintendent Rhonda Seindenwurm. “This is just an incredible experience for the kids,” said Dr. Seidenwurm, adding that she has never met a fifth grader who did not enjoy the MMF project.
Cannon leadership, including Col. Scott West, 27th Fighter Wing commander, and his wife Jane, and Lt. Col. James Lewis, 27th Mission Support Group deputy commander, also visited the various habitats. 

“I am very impressed. I am happy the base was able to support the program; I think the kids got a lot out of it,” said Colonel West. “They are very enthusiastic about what they are presenting.” 

“The sense of accomplishment that students have after completing the simulated mission to Mars on Link-Up Day is a good measure of the impact this type of activity has on students,” said Ms. Cole. 

The MMF is based on the Challenger Center for Space Science Education’s Marsville, the Cosmic Village program, which is modified to reflect Air Force terminology and core values, according to promotional materials from STARBASE La Luz. 

For more information about the program, call (505) 846-6936 or e-mail afstarbaselaluz@Kirtland.af.mil.