It was an out of this world experience for students at Cook elementary on Monday March 21, as 5th graders from local elementary schools joined together to participate in the first ever Utah Mission to Mars program.
Mission to Mars teaches students about space and engineering and it teaches teamwork as student teams prepare for and simulate going on a manned mission to the planet Mars to build colonies.
The program was originally created at the La Luz Academy at the Kirkland Air Force Base located in New Mexico.
Several staff from Hill AFB assisted the students in constructing their habitats, and listening to and grading their presentations.
Col. Kraig Hanson, a big supporter of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) projects, kicked off the event with a short welcome to the students.
"The Department of Defense has decided that STEM is important and we want you kids to get interested for years to come," said Hanson, 75th Mission Support Squadron commander, in his brief address.
During the program students attended several stations around the school. At one station all the children weighed their lunches to make sure they were less than 20 ounces. This was done so it didn't take up too much space or weight as those are scarce commodities on a mission in space.
Robin Parkinson, a 5th grade teacher at Cook Elementary said her students really enjoyed participating in the program and that it has helped them work together as team.
Other stations included such objectives as giving presentations on the life support systems the students created prior to the event. Some of the life support systems included: waste management, communication and recreation.
At another station the students sang a song M2M (Mission to Mars) to the tune of Frere Jacques.
After attending all the stations, students gathered in the gymnasium to construct their habitats, which were constructed of plastic sheeting, duct tape and were inflated by fans. Then, all the habitats were connected by tunnels to create one large colony, so they could visit the other habitats.
"It was fun. My favorite part was inflating because it made me so happy we did it," said Riley Marriott, a 5th grader at Cook Elementary. " I learned that if you work together you can do anything."
Judith Maughan, School Liaison Officer for Hill AFB said, "This was a really exciting day for all of us, teachers, schools and Hill Air Force Base, especially when every Mars habitat inflated and all the children were able to eat their especially packed Mars lunches."
She added, "I am always impressed with the volunteers from Hill Air Force Base, but these volunteers really were able to keep the children focused and they (the volunteers) enjoyed watching the children go through the process of getting ready to go to Mars and later on show excitement when the mission was accomplished. It was a super day."
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ruster Custer was the mission commander and he came prepared with many trivia questions to ask about Mars, Star Trek and Star Wars, to add to the science fiction and science aspects of the project.