‘Mission To Mars’: What I did over summer vacation
Special to the Sierra Sun
“What did you do on your summer vacation?” is a question most children are asked each fall as they return to school. The usual response is “Went to the beach,“ “Went to grandma’s,” “Went to Disneyland,“ “Went to Mars.” Went to Mars? “How is that possible?“ you ask.
Well, in Truckee, 36 lucky children did just that. They went on a magical trip to Mars in the Mission to Mars Space Camp Program offered by the Truckee Donner Recreation and Parks Department summer camp series. For the past 10 years the Truckee Civil Air Patrol runs three Mission to Mars Space Camps at the Truckee Airport.
Each Space Camp offers 12 children the opportunity to see what it would take to go on a trip to Mars, live there for some time and return. Each day provides many STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art or Aviation, Math) activities for the children as they work on real life problem solving issues to get to Mars and return. The Truckee Airport, as a sponsor, provides the necessary materials and use of a hangar so the children will have a successful trip. TDRPD registers the children who want to attend the camps.
Truckee Civil Air Patrol Camp directors, Lt. Col. Ken Aronson, Squadron commander, and his wife Rolann Aronson, aerospace education officer, have been involved in the idea of space travel ever since the creation of the Space Shuttle back in the 1980s while Rolann taught elementary school.
Through the years they have created many hands-on STEAM activities for Rolann to use in her classroom that teach aviation and aerospace. When the Truckee airport asked Ken, who was commander of the Truckee squadron, if they could help them with a children’s summer activity on aviation and aerospace, Ken and Rolann knew just what to do. Just dust off some old school curriculum Rolann used and a Space Camp was put together.
The Mission to Mars Space Camp is like the 1960 TV show “Gilligan’s Island” in reverse. Unlike the TV show where each time we meet the characters they are trying to go on a trip to leave the Island, when we at the Space Camp meet our characters (the children) we are trying to go on a trip to an Island (Mars). Each day has about six STEAM activities that help us get there.
Since we cannot walk, ride a bike or drive a car to Mars, we will have to fly there instead. That is why the program takes place at the Truckee airport. Monday we explore flying. Maybe take a glider or airplane to Mars. The children are shown a real airplane and glider to explore.
For many of the children this may be the first opportunity to get up close to an airplane so we have a great opportunity to introduce the world of aviation to them. Tuesday we find it is more complicated to go to Mars using an airplane so we get involved with what NASA might use, maybe the Space Shuttle? After studying its technology we finally decide to use a rocket to get there. After building model rockets , we blast off to Mars.
It is now Wednesday morning and we blast off to Mars. The rocket returns using a parachute but the children’s spirits continue to Mars and by afternoon we find ourselves orbiting the planet. The children are turned into the size of a raw egg. After they build a landing craft that will protect them from breaking, when landing on Mars, we are ready for the test. The landing craft are dropped off the top of a tall airport building to see if the raw egg breaks on landing. If not, they have survived their trip to Mars.
Thursday and Friday we spend some time together on the red planet, building a city to live in, building a Mars rover to explore and create a communication system (telegraph) to make our time on the planet more Earth-like. The “Robotic Arm” STEM kit is introduced. Maybe robots could help us create a Martian city. After receiving hints that there might be someone else on Mars, we go on an adventure hike to see who else is on the planet. After finding “Marvin the Martian” the children are rewarded with some food astronauts eat in space, Astronaut Ice Cream. Friday afternoon we need to return back to earth so we build water rockets and return home to a welcome home party and celebration with ice cream and cake.
For those children, who want to further enhance their interest in aviation, we partner with the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and take the children up in small aircraft for a flight and get them started in the EAA Young Eagles Program.
The Tahoe Truckee Composite Squadron really enjoys doing the summer Space Camp and looks forward every summer to meet the new participants in our “Mission to Mars.“ We hope one day one of the children, who has participated in the program, actually does make it to Mars. We would expect when they are asked what they think about being on Mars, they would say no big deal, “Been There, Done That” in the Tahoe Truckee Civil Air Patrol’s Mission to Mars Space Camp at Truckee.
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