Archive for the ‘nasa’ tag

Your Citizen Science Idea Could Fly to Mars and Win You $20,000 from NASA!

By September 22nd, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Comment

mars balance challenge

Rack your brains for a chance to win cash from NASA (Image Credit: NASA)

Buckle up folks, ‘cause NASA is coming to you with a challenge. On Saturday, NASA announced at the World Maker Faire in New York that it has opened up registration for the ‘Mars Balance Mass Challenge’. The space agency has had a history of engaging citizen scientists through online crowdsourcing initiatives such as Target Asteroids!, Planet Mappers and Be a Martian and on the ground challenges such as its annual Sample Return Robot Challenge. In August this year, they partnered with ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) for the ‘Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative’ which invites the public to discuss and comment on how NASA is tackling asteroid exploration, potential asteroid threats and planetary defense.

So what is the Mars Balance Mass challenge all about? The exploration of Mars is one of the agency’s major projects. Since its inception, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) has conducted extensive studies in an effort to understand its climate, natural resources and importantly the possibility of life on Mars. In one such mission in 2012, NASA landed the robotic space probe Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the surface of Mars. To accurately land at a predetermined site the probe used a precision guided system which included two ejectable ‘balance masses’ made of tungsten weighing 150 kg (approximately 330 lb) each. The first balance mass comprising of two 165-pound weights was ejected before entering the atmosphere of Mars to offset the spacecraft’s center of gravity during entry. The second balance mass, made up of six 55-pound weights was expelled after atmospheric entry and rebalanced the center of gravity of the craft just before the parachute was deployed 1,2. (You can even see images of the impact craters created by these balance weights on the surface of Mars. Pretty cool huh?)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

Positioning of the ejectable tungsten balance weights on the MSL. Two blue lines represen the 150 lb balance masses ejected before entry and six 55 lb masses ejected after entry are represented by the blue circles. (Image Credit: NASA2)

So how does this relate to the challenge? In the 2012 mission, these balance masses were simply tungsten dead weights. For the challenge, the question that NASA wants your help to answer is

“If you had up to 150 kg of ejectable mass prior to entry and another 150 kg during the entry and landing phase of a Mars mission, what could you do with it that was useful and advances knowledge in a scientific or technological way?”

In other words, by replacing the balance masses in future missions with a useful payload, NASA is hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Perform the function of the balance masses and acquire additional knowledge. Partnering with Innocentive Inc., NASA is offering a prize of $20,000 to the winning proposal. According to their website, this is a “Theoretical Challenge” which means that citizen scientists need only to submit a written proposal, though “ideas, drawings, and detailed procedures are required.”

In an official press release by NASA, Lisa May, lead program executive for NASA’s Mars exploration program said, “We want people to get involved in our journey to Mars. This challenge is a creative way to bring innovative ideas into our planning process, and perhaps help NASA find another way to pack more science and technology into a mission.” The challenge already has garnered significant interest with 215 226 active participants and counting (at the time of writing) within only two days since it was opened to the public. Participation can be on an individual basis or a team effort. For teams, Innocentive offers online workspaces known as Team Project Rooms to collaborate efficiently and document the process.

The Mars Balance Challenge is part of the launch of a larger initiative known as NASA Solve, an online platform which lists all the opportunities available to the general public. These challenges are ones that NASA needs the help of citizen scientists in solving. “NASA is committed to engaging the public, and specifically the maker community through innovative activities like the Mars Balance Mass Challenge, and NASA Solve is a great way for members of the public, makers and other citizen scientists to see all NASA challenges and prizes in one location,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller in the press release.

Ideas for the Mars Balance Mass Challenge are not limited to any specific discipline so the (Mars) sky is the limit. Fire up your imaginations, hone your google search skills and start cracking!

***

Interested in citizen science projects from NASA? Search for them using the project finder on SciStarter!

Sources

1. Harwood, William “Curiosity relies on untried ‘sky crane’ for Mars descent” CBS News 30 July 2012 (Link)
2. Brugarolas Paul B.,  Miguel San Martin A. and Wong Edward C. “The RCS 3-axis attitude control system for the exo-atmospheric and guided entry phases of the Mars Science Laboratory” NASA.gov (Link to PDF)

Editors Note: This post was also published on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon blog and the PLoS CitizenSci blog.

Categories: Astronomy & Space

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Citizen Science in the Classrom: Mapping Mars and Be a Martian with NASA

By September 9th, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

 

Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom

Mars Rover main page

Grades:

1st -12th

Description:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.”  After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.”  In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of Martian mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer or computers with internet access.
  • Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
  • Color printer

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
  • No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
  • Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
  • NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.

Read the rest of this entry »

Informing NASA’s Asteroid Initiative: Your Chance to Participate!

By August 28th, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Comment

Asteroid Sample Retrieval

Asteroid Sample Retrieval

August 28, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts?

How about harvesting asteroids for potential economic benefits? What do we do if we find an asteroid that threatens Earth? How should we balance costs, risks, and benefits of human exploration in space?

Sounds like stuff just for rocket scientists. But how would you like to be part of this discussion?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Citizen Cyberscience Summit: Science for all, and all for science

By February 27th, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Comment

A synopsis of and key takeaways from the Citizen Cyberscience Summit 2014 in London

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As some of you may already know, SciStarter presented at the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London this past weekend (2/20 to 2/22). In a nutshell, the conference was a place where a multitude of organizations and groups could convene to discuss the most pertinent issues regarding citizen science today and for the future.

The first day revolved around listening–the schedule comprised of back-to-back 30-minute sessions focused on stories from practitioners about their experiences. For a session called “It Takes a Village: Engaging Participants Beyond Clickwork,” founder Darlene Cavalier spoke about SciStarter’s  Project MERCCURI, a citizen science research project in partnership with UC Davis, Science Cheerleader, Space Florida and NanoRacks to crowdsource the collection and study of  microbe samples to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station. Cavalier centered her discussion on Project MERCCURI to illustrate the benefits of working with partners to reach new communities. Project MERCCURI works with Pop Warner little scholars, Yuri’s Night, NFL, NBA and MLB teams and other nontraditional partners to activate collection activities and amplify results.

The second day was one of discussion, during which groups that attended held workshops or panels to gain insight on topics spanning policy, publishing, data gathering, sensor technology, mapping, and more. The diversity of these topics was a testament to the depth and breadth of citizen science itself.

On this day, a session called “Connecting Communities to Citizen Scientists” addressed some of the challenges experienced by citizen scientists participating in multiple projects across different platforms. This workshop, convened by Darlene Cavalier at SciStarter and Francois Grey at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, was made possible with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During the discussion, we heard from project managers from Public Lab, Project Noah, iNaturalist, EyeWire, Zooniverse, and a representative from Mozilla about various models for managing projects and their progress. “There is a diverse ecosystem of citizen science projects on the Web,” says Cavalier. “We are working work with stakeholders to explore ways to improve the experience for participants who want to move between different projects running on different platforms, both in terms of identity management and tracking contributions to different citizen science initiatives. The idea is to rise the tide for all involved in citizen science.”

And finally, the third day was all about doing. This open “Hack Day” allowed groups and individuals to propose sessions based on problems that they’ve identified in the work that they do. Then, the entire day allowed attendees to cross-pollinate ideas, offer their expertise, and hopefully help contribute to the solution.

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SciStarter’s Hack Day Challenge explored the idea of building a dashboard to help citizen scientists track and manage their projects. We invited anybody and everybody to our workspace (two wooden tables pushed together donned with laptops, post-its, butcher paper, candy, and SciStarter swag) to give us input. As a result, we heard from a plethora of stakeholders within the realm of citizen scientists–researchers, journalists, project managers, citizen scientists, educators, and more. We asked, how can we improve the experience for participants who want to move between different projects running on different platforms?

After a lot of conversations, a lot of scribbling, and, well, a lot of post-its, SciStarter was able to fine tune a plan for a dashboard that helps connect more people to projects and people to people, something that will truly guide us through the next year.

You can find the full program schedule and list of presenters here, and if you’re interested in looking up social media posts from the conference, follow the #CCS14 hashtag.

Have any questions for SciStarter about the conference? Do you have writing, programming, development, or organizational skills you’d like to contribute to our community effort? Please feel free to leave your comments below or e-mail us at info@scistarter.com. We want to keep this conversation going!

Images: Courtesy of Jonathan Brier & Lily Bui

Citizen Science in the Classrom: Mapping Mars and Be a Martian with NASA

By February 4th, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Comment

Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom

Mars Rover main page

Grades:

1st -12th

Description:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.”  After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.”  In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of Martian mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer or computers with internet access.
  • Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
  • Color printer

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
  • No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
  • Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
  • NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.

Teaching Materials:

Teaching materials that are supplied on Citizenship website, for the “Be a Martian” project, include a Mars atlas with descriptions of different parts of the planet’s surface and the “Two Moons” theater. There are eight different videos in the theater, ranging from testing the Curiosity’s parachute to students designing human settlements on Mars.

There is also an Educators Page, accessed from the Mars Exploration home page.  However it has an extensive curriculum for K-12 as well as supporting resources. Here are just some of the lessons included:

  • Reflect on Your Community- Design a plan for an Earth community and discuss how it would be made on Mars.
  • Solar System Scale and Size- Create a model of the solar system that compares size and distance.
  • Soda Straw Rockets-creating rockets from soda straws.
  • Marsbound-Using a card game to design a mission and get everyone home safely.
  • Lava Layering-Modeling lava flow and layering using play dough.
  • Rover Races-Drawing and designing a rover to meet challenges on the surface of Mars.
  • Mars Image Analysis-using images to analyze Mar’s surface environment.

NASA also provides resources for the classroom including the “Mars Activity Book.” This is a 131 page document which is full of even more activities and lesson plans K-12. You can also find coloring pages and posters. For 5th-12th grade there is even the option of joining the Mars Student Imaging Project and which would allow your class to actually take pictures from the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Mars tagging screen shot

In the Mars Mapping room students can tag topographic features of the surface of Mars.

Online Safety for Children

The Mars Mapping project allows students and teachers to create their own accounts or to use an “Anonymous Tourist Visa.”  The account website sorts students into 0-13 years or 14+ years. For the 0-13 yr. old students, they must provide a parent or guardian’s e-mail. In the sign up process they are also required to take an “oath” that they won’t give out information about themselves, treat others nicely, and not use bad words or say means things. For older participants they can use their own e-mail but they also agree to respect everyone and follow their code of conduct. The use of accounts appears designed to encourage student challenges for obtaining points and badges which may encourage participation. Learn more about children’s online privacy and citizen science.

Images: NASA.gov

Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:

First Grade

Next. Gen. Science: 1-ESS1-1 Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars, and why the sun and moon appear to rise and set. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.1.7 Participate in a shared research and writing projects. W.1.8 with guidance and support from adults, recall information from experience or gather information from provided sources to answer a question

(See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively

(See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Second Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to design a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should be a group collaboration using research about the planet. Students should write a report about their design solution.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.2.6 with guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing in collaboration with peers.

(See Next. Gen. activities listed above).

Mars counting craters

Counting and Mapping craters in the Martian Map Room.

Fourth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

Students may make observations about bodies of water, craters, lakes, volcanoes, and other topographical features of Earth, and then compare these features using the Mars Mapping activities to make inferences about the similarities and differences between the two planets. The NASA images database of Mars may be useful, as well as the 3 D images, as well as the information provided for characterizing the climate and geology of Mars.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

(See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above)

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

(See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above).

Fifth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 5-ESS1-1 Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distance from the Earth. 5-ESS1-2 Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets. Graphs may be constructed of constellations and where they may be seen at different times for both Mars and Earth.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.5.7-Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly to solve a problem efficiently. W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

(See explanation of the activities above for Next Gen).

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively, MP.4 Model with mathematics.

(See explanation of activities above for Next Gen).

Middle School

MS-PS2-4 Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects. MS-ESS1-2 Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system.

Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.

MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system.

The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.

MT-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that might limit possible solutions.  MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should then be compared and the solutions assessed using a rubric which the students develop.

High School

HS-ESS1-4 Use mathematical or computational representations to predict the motion of orbiting objects in the solar system.

Common Core (WHST.9-12.2) (SL 11-12.4) (MP.2) (MP.4) (HSN-Q.A.1-3).

Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale  & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.


When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen McDonald is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel.