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Students design mission to Mars at Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars academy

The first Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars (ISAS) program included events at INL's Center for Advanced Energy Studies (shown), in Boise and online.

Designing a 500-day manned mission to Mars may sound like science fiction, but 44 high school students did just that as part of the first Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars (ISAS) academy this summer in Boise.

The students from across Idaho gathered at Boise State University to plan alongside NASA officials, teachers and Idaho experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). At the end of the weeklong experience, Idaho recognized its first 44 NASA aerospace scholars who join an elite group of alumni across the nation.

The ISAS program, a competitive experience for high school juniors, includes a rigorous online course developed by NASA and offered through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy. Idaho National Laboratory's work with NASA developing radioisotope thermoelectric generators — space batteries — for space exploration like the New Horizons mission to Pluto made the laboratory a perfect fit for its role as an original industry partner for ISAS.

Students work on an engineering activity at Boise's Discovery Center of Idaho as part of the ISAS summer academy.

Part of the online instruction for the course includes webinars presented by Idaho STEM experts. Steve Howe with INL's Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR) presented a webinar on nuclear energy applications for space exploration. INL's Bob Neilson mentored the Mission Integration team charged with coordinating the overall mission elements of getting there, living there and working there.

After completing the eight-week course, students receive a high school science credit and, based on achievement in the online course, are eligible to attend the weeklong summer academy that includes a trip to NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Barbara Morgan, former astronaut and Distinguished Educator in Residence at BSU, started discussion about bringing an aerospace scholars program to Idaho with education and business leaders in the spring of 2009. Among the group was Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who pledged funding for the pilot year of this unique STEM enrichment program.

The program was launched last January with support from partners including INL, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, Discovery Center of Idaho, Micron Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, Idaho Air National Guard, University of Idaho and Idaho State University.

Scholars participated in hands-on physics demonstrations led by graduate students from Idaho State University at the regional capstone event held at CAES.

More than 70 students participated in the online portion of the program in its first year. All students, including those not eligible to attend the summer academy, were invited to regional "capstone" events designed to recognize their participation and to provide a deeper appreciation of Idaho STEM opportunities in academics and industry.

The eastern Idaho event, held at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, featured an overview of CSNR efforts by DeLisa Rogers and presentations by interns Nathan Jerred and Jon McCulley. The event, which drew 16 students and their parents from across the state, also included a tour of INL's robotics lab, an interactive physics demonstration from ISU students and a hands-on demonstration of INL's Computer Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE™).

Luna, who spoke to Idaho's 44 scholars and their parents at the end of the summer academy in Boise, said, "The Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars Program and Summer Academy give Idaho students the unprecedented opportunity to work directly with experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at NASA and throughout Idaho."

Last spring, NASA awarded a $1.2 million grant to Idaho's State Department of Education to expand the program. The state plans to serve 180 students in the 2010-2011 year. Applications for the 2011 program are available here.


Visit the Idaho Science and Aerospace Scholars Facebook group.


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