An “InSight” into the Schools Tune Into Mars project

Published by Koen Glotzbach on

What does NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory look like? What is the top speed of the InSight Lander? And, most importantly, what are “lucky peanuts”? We at the European Schoolnet Academy had no idea, but we know someone who does… Noëlle Billon!

The Schools Tune Into Mars (STIM) project was selected (from over 700 applications) to take part in the InSight Mission launch on 26 November 2018. Fatima Moujdi and me, Noëlle Billon, went there as representatives of the project. The STIM project is a result of the close collaboration between the worlds of Space research and education. The InSight launch was the beginning of this adventure.

In two days we had the opportunity to live a unique moment in the history of space missions, and to meet the team that worked on this ground-breaking project. Location: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – NASA’s research and development centre, where the InSight lander and rover are developed.

The first day started with a pre-landing briefing on the mission: What results the main investigators expected from it. Why the different sensors on the lander are so unique. How the NASA team would follow the lander and correct its direction. That’s also when we learnt about the ‘lucky peanuts’ – served and eaten in many the mission control centres during critical mission stages to help missions succeed. (More on this fun fact via the link above!) Special was also the visit to the Indoor Mars Yard: one of the cleanest rooms in the JPL for the construction and necessary testing for the deployment of the lander and rover.

The second day was “landing day” – or “D-Day” for the different teams working on the mission. As soon as we arrived at the JPL, we felt the anxiety and the excitement as NASA’s InSight spacecraft was expected to complete its seven-month journey to Mars. InSight had travelled 484,773,006 kilometres, entering the Martian atmosphere at a top speed of 19,800 kilometres per hour. After the ‘7 minutes of terror’ (entry, descent and landing), InSight successfully touched ground.

Fast forward some months later, in June 2019, the first Martian data was available for all students. Researchers and a pedagogical team spent nearly a year working on developing innovative STEM activities that would kindle students’ interest in space missions like never before.

Over the past months the project team worked on creating an online course from these STEM activities. As a result, you now have the opportunity to ‘Tune Into Mars’ and meet our cool course coordinator during the STIM online course, the training open to all teachers interested in bringing space research directly to their students.

Schools Tune Into Mars
This course offers real, first-hand data and provides tools to STEM teachers who would like to explore Space missions to Mars together with their student. Starts Monday 4 June 2020.

This blog was edited and republished with permission, based on the two posts written by Noëlle Billon on the Scientix website: 1st day, 25th November and 2nd day: Landing day, 26th November.

Schools Tune Into Mars (STIM) is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The European Commission support for the production of this material does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Header image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Categories: Insights

Koen Glotzbach

Koen Glotzbach

Koen comes from The Netherlands and now works in Brussels on the European Schoolnet Academy. He is the platform's communication officer and manages the technical development. Interested in open source software (which the EUN Academy runs on), he is an active contributor to that community both at work and home.