Return to Headlines

Students connect curriculum with real-life application in NASA scientist virtual visit

student at computer with projector behind him with Zoom call(12/16/2022) On Dec. 14-15, students from elementary, middle and high schools in Anoka-Hennepin met virtually with Dr. Fernando Mier-Hicks, a scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to talk about his work on the Mars 2020 mission. 

Selected students from Andover and Anoka high schools; Anoka, Jackson, Oak View, and Roosevelt middle schools; and elementary school students from the Nebula program at Eisenhower Elementary School had the opportunity to ask questions to Mier-Hicks about the Mars mission, specifically the Mars rover and helicopter. The virtual experience was recorded and will be shared to all sixth and ninth grade classes in the district as part of their ongoing study of earth science.

Mier-Hicks is the cognizant engineer of the ground support equipment used on the sampling and caching system of Mars 2020. He also developed the gravity offload system for the Mars helicopter. Currently he is training as a rover planner for Mars Science Laboratory.

Questions the students asked were: 

  • In the atmosphere simulator/chamber you used to test Ingenuity, what materials did you use to simulate gravity?
  • How much would it cost for humans to travel to Mars and back?
  • What exactly does a rover planner do?
  • Is it possible for some of the newer rovers that are still working on Mars to try and recover some of the old rovers?
  • What are the biggest struggles you’ve had with your latest mission?
  • What’s your favorite part of your job and what inspired you to choose this field?
  • How much has your helicopter changed from your first prototype until now?
  • What schooling and experience did you need before working at NASA? 
  • What can you tell us about electric microthrusters?
  • What are you working on now, what is next and what would be your dream project?

The virtual meeting connected with learning for ninth graders in the new Education Development Center (EDC) earth science curriculum. The students are currently in the unit called "Comparing Earth to Other Worlds." Through this unit students explore what it would take to make it possible for humans to live on Mars. Earth science is a new course for ninth graders this year, taking the place of physical science as part of the transition to the 2019 Minnesota science standards.

For sixth graders, the Amplify Science curriculum starts with a unit called "Geology on Mars" where students compare features on Earth and Mars to determine what caused the features, running water or volcanic activity.

Nebula is a school-within-a-school program for gifted students, and the students are currently in a Mars 2020 experience where they are building and coding model rovers and simulating missions done by NASA.