Simulated Space Missions

These simulated “out-of-this-world” experiences allow K-12 student, public, adult, and corporate “crews” to apply and learn additional skills in mathematics, science, technology, language, reading, communication, geography and team-building.

Rendezvous with a Comet

Rendezvous with Comet logoIt is the not-too-distant future and teams of scientists are routinely using small, maneuverable space stations to venture out into Earth’s “neighborhood” as part of a long-term study of small bodies in the Solar System. Primary targets include comets and asteroids, which scientists believe are the oldest, most primitive bodies in the Solar System and may preserve the earliest record of the material that formed Earth and its planetary neighbors.

During this mission, team members work as scientists and engineers headed to Rendezvous with a Comet as part of this continuing study of our Solar System. These rendezvous missions are critical in helping scientists verify and better understand data collected by earlier small body missions occurring at the start of the new millennium, such as STARDUST and its capture of cometary material from comet Wild-2 in 2004 and the return of the material to Earth in 2006. The actual samples provided by STARDUST established detailed baseline data on comets still used today.

The onboard astronauts, working with their counterparts in Mission Control, are tasked with sending a probe to intercept and collect new data on a well-studied short-period comet before heading on to study the asteroid Ceres, the largest asteroid, with a diameter of 623 miles (1,003 km).

Challenger Center of KentuckyComet Encke provides an excellent target because its short period (3.3 years) which has allowed it to be observed from Earth at more apparitions (or appearances) than any other comet, including the famous Comet Halley. Encke continues to puzzle scientists because even though it has been in a short-period orbit for thousands of years, the comet continues to have a high level of activity as the Sun’s heat boils off its dirty ices into gases and dust. This is the first probe to rendezvous with Encke since 2003 and the fly-by of the comet-chasing CONTOUR spacecraft.

The small, maneuverable space stations used for these rendezvous missions require lots of maintenance and care, providing plenty of challenges for the crews in space and on the ground. Navigating into the correct position for probe launches - not to mention sending a probe through the material surrounding an active comet - also requires concentration and teamwork to successfully collect vital scientific information and complete the mission.

Small bodies in the Solar System are also highly unpredictable objects and have been known to surprise scientists from time to time, so crew members will also need to be on their toes and ready to make quick decisions.

Challenger Center programs are designed to reflect academic standards such as the Kentucky Program of Studies and Core Content for Assessment, the National Science Education Standards, and the Curriculum and Evaluation standards for school mathematics.

Voyage to Mars

Voyage to Mars logoIn Earth years, it is 2076, and a now routine Voyage to Mars has brought the latest human crew into Martian orbit. Control of the incoming flight has been transferred from Houston’s Mission Control to Mars Control at Chryse Station. The crew arriving from Earth on the Mars Transport Vehicle has been specially trained to replace the existing crew of astronauts, which has manned the Mars Control for the past two years, and to continue their scientific explorations.

It was 100 years ago when Viking 1 & 2 made their first United States’ robotic landings on Mars in the late 1970’s giving humans their first up-close look at the Martian surface. John Goodlette, a native of Hazard, Kentucky was the lead engineer for the Viking Mission. Learn more about Mr. Goodlette.

A renewed interest in Earth’s planetary neighbor was spurred by Mars Pathfinder with its July 4, 1997, landing. The more recent “Spirit” and “Opportunity” rovers of which Opportunity is still operating on Mars, and the most recent Curiosity Rover which is the size of a golf cart & carries many types of scientific equipment. These rovers rekindled the human spirit of exploration as they crawled around ancient flood plains on Mars sniffing rocks and snapping pictures that provide the most detailed look ever at the Red Planet’s surface. These rovers have verified that water has once flowed on the surface of Mars.

Challenger Center of KentuckyThe success of the previous Mars missions set the stage for an armada of robotic spacecraft that over the past four decades has paved the way for the first human landings on Mars. The data collected during the early years of the new millennium by robotic explorations and spacecraft in Martian orbit have directed the human explorations.

Studies of the ancient flood plains and incredible canyons are part of an effort to find out what happened to the water that once flowed across Mars, to find out if the planet once had a more Earth-like environment, and if so, to find out why it changed and if this change could happen on Earth. The crew on the Martian surface has collected and analyzed a great number of geologic and soil samples, as well as data gathered by probes on the Martian moons.

The Mars Control team is charged with the selection of entry and departure trajectories before the landing and subsequent lift-off of the Mars Transport Vehicle can occur.

The crew on the Mars Transport Vehicle is tasked with the launching of probes targeted at the Martian moons. A probe will be launched to Phobos prior to landing, and then another to Deimos before the flight back to Earth.

Both the relief crew and the planet-based crew will be under tight deadlines to gather important data and communicate information to the teams, the spacecraft, and the Mars base. The crews also will gain an appreciation for the “luxuries” of planet Earth - such as air, water and food - as compared to a barren planet such as Mars.

Return to the Moon

Return to the Moon logoThe new millennium is still young, but humans are preparing to Return to the Moon, spurred on by the suggestion of frozen water (“water ice”) on the lunar surface by Lunar Prospector in 1998. Composed of hydrogen and oxygen – the elements that make up water – the lunar ice provides a core resource for long-term human presence on the lunar surface.

Lunar Prospector was followed by a series of successful robotic missions designed to prove the concept that the water ice could be mined. Once collected, the water ice can be turned into drinking water, oxygen for life support of a lunar base, nutrients as the basis for agriculture, components needed for rocket fuel, or when combined with lunar soil, the basics for construction materials. Not only did those robotic missions successfully prove the concept, but since then additional robotic staging missions have landed and begun manufacturing these essential resources.

As part of the Return to the Moon mission, this crew of astronauts will – for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 – land on the surface of the Moon. This time the astronauts are there to establish a permanent base with the core goals of:

  1. Establishing an observation program to study the Earth and other Solar System bodies without the interference of the Earth’s atmosphere,
  2. Testing the feasibility of a self-sustaining, off-planet settlement, and
  3. Serving as a staging area for additional human exploration of our Solar System.

The Return to the Moon mission begins with the spacecraft in Earth orbit and the Mission Control team monitoring the crew’s status. The crew aboard the spacecraft will leave Earth orbit and travel to the Moon using the latest in transport technology to reduce the travel time. In addition to verifying the best site for the establishment of the lunar base, during the course of the mission the crew will build and launch a probe to the lunar surface, recover a probe that is stranded in space, and repair the damaged probe.

Some information has been previously obtained from the potential lunar base sites. A detailed study has determined that the base site must contain soils, metals, and potentially useful resources such as helium-3. Rock and soil samples, soil composition, and seismic information have been gathered by previous missions from a portion of the potential sites. Experiments on soil and rock samples from other possible sites must be performed in order to determine the best site for the lunar base.

Challenger Center of KentuckyThe crew will navigate their spacecraft to the Moon and plot an acceptable orbit. Together the crew will place their spaceship into lunar orbit and make the important decision of the location of the first permanent lunar base. To gather the data needed to analyze potential lunar base sites, the crew will have to function as a team and utilize their best communication and analytical skills.

Challenger Center programs are designed to reflect academic standards such as the Kentucky Program of Studies and Core Content for Assessment, the National Science Education Standards, and the Curriculum and Evaluation standards for school mathematics

Mars Invasion 2030, From Coal Camp to Space Camp

Mars Invasion logoThe first explorers on Mars will undoubtedly need to create an environment for themselves that will allow them to survive on the planet for extended periods of time. Many of the things we take for granted for our survival on Earth will suddenly become precious commodities on Mars as we realize we must mine and process the very water and oxygen we need to live. Because of this, miners, like our very own coal miners here in Eastern Kentucky, may very well be the first astronauts to go to Mars. 

Since mining is an integral part of our culture here in Central Appalachia and since much of the same technology used to mine coal and other resources on Earth will be similar if not identical to the technology required to sustain life on Mars, The Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky has developed a partnership with CEDAR (Coal Education Development & Resource) to bring you Mars Invasion 2030, From Coal Camp to Space Camp where fourth grade students investigate the way coal mining and space science are alike and how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) is important in both fields. 

A series of lesson plans are used by the teacher to introduce the concept of planning for a future mission to Mars and the establishment of a space colony by looking at the way coal camps were established around the turn of the 20th Century. Coal companies partner with the Challenger Center in sponsoring 4th grade classrooms to participate in this exciting program. Mars Invasion is a great tool to get your fourth graders excited about the STEM disciplines.