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Prep for NASA Hangout on Feb. 6th

NASA expert to answer questions about Mars 

Engineer Kobie Boykins will shed light on the red planet as part of the Cradle of Aviation Museum’s “Countdown to Apollo at 50” celebration.

By David J. Criblez   david.criblez@newsday.com

 Mars has always been a mystery. Earth’s second-closest neighbor has been the focus of media and movies for decades. But how much do we really know about the red planet? Kobie Boykins, a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, presents “Exploring Mars: The Next Generation” discussion at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, as part of the museum’s “Countdown to Apollo at 50” yearlong celebration.

But before he arrives, Boykins, who helped build the Mars rover exploration vehicles, explains key things we know — and don’t — about the fourth planet from the sun:

1. THERE ARE SIGNS OF WATER ON MARS The rover discovered traces of water on the planet’s surface. “We were looking for a mineral called hematite, which only forms in water on Earth. We found hematite on the surface of Mars,” says Boykins, 43, of Omaha, Nebraska. “We were able to see changes in the salt content of the soil, scraped up some of the ice, brought it inside the vehicle, melted it and proved it was H2O. There was an overwhelming evidence of water on Mars.”

2. MARS HAS THE SAME AMOUNT OF LAND AS EARTH Although Earth is bigger than Mars in size, both planets have a similar land mass. “If you removed the oceans, took all of our land that’s above the water and put it together, that would be the surface size of Mars,” Boykins says. “But as a planet, Mars is about one-third the size, in diameter, of Earth.”

3. MARS HAS THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM Olympus Mons on Mars stands more than 82,000 feet tall — that’s about 2 1⁄2 times the size of Earth’s Mount Everest. “It’s huge,” Boykins says. “In essence, it’s the size of the state of Arizona. Their Grand Canyon would span the whole United States from East Coast to West Coast. We are pretty sure it’s a dead volcano. My guess is that it hasn’t been active for tens of thousands of years.”

4. IT TAKES ABOUT TWO YEARS TO GET TO MARS Because humans are fragile and can only survive a certain level of impact, it would take longer for a manned mission to reach the planet than robotic equipment alone. “A human mission to Mars is not about how fast we can go but how fast we can slow down to land,” Boykins says. “Our ability to take deceleration isn’t very good. For example, roller coasters are designed to be around four times the gravitational pull of Earth. That is about where most people knock out.”

5. IT’S POSSIBLE TO LIVE ON MARS, BUT... The concept of living on Mars has been talked about for years, but such a feat would not come easily. “We’d have to find a way to harvest the water and figure out a way to create oxygen that’s breathable,” Boykins says. “If we could bring enough plants, the plants could ingest the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and spread out oxygen for us to breathe. You’d have to create an environment that is a bit warmer and be somewhere near the equator. We’d also have to create some energy source. We are talking about a significant effort.”

 6. IS THERE LIFE ON MARS? The answer to the question everybody wants to know varies in opinion, but based on the latest information available, traces of life seem apparent. “As with anything else, wherever we see water, we see life. Mars had liquid water at some point in time. I think there probably was something that was alive,” Boykins says. “It wasn’t a high order of life, but rather blue-green algae, pond scum, things you would find in an aquarium. But because of a cataclysmic event, it was wiped out.” 

To celebrate the future of space exploration, we are proud to host and honor an extraordinary NASA engineer, Kobie Boykins, to inspire students to explore in STEM through real-world application. In this pre-visit lesson, we participate in a hands-on activity and discover information about the Red Planet.

Suiting up for Space Travel: Spacesuits are one of the important enabling technologies that have permitted humans to explore outer space. To survive the hostile environment, humans need to be covered from head to toe with a protective shell (spacesuit) every time they exit the spacecraft. Your challenge is to design and build a new protective spacesuit that will allow future Martian astronauts to explore the Red Planet. Keep in mind the spacesuit must protect the person from the Martian environment, be comfortable to wear for 8-10 hours, be durable for repeated use, flexible enough for walking and be able to house some tools/supplies to study as part of their experiments. What would it this suit look like? What materials would you use? Would it include new features? 

All about Kobie!  Engineers work to design, create, test, and manufacture all sorts of things! From skyscrapers and bridges to rollercoasters, video games, and even Mars Rovers!! How do you think engineers use science, mathematics, and technology to help their ideas come to life? What do you think their day-to-day would be like? Are there certain programs required to obtain careers in this field at the college level?  

Getting the Scoop on the Red Planet: The below are great online resources that explore Mars through game play, programming, and interactives.   

Explore Mars with Scratch: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/explore-mars-with-scratch/   Mars Student Mapping Project: https://mars.nasa.gov/msip/   

Be a Martian: https://beamartian.jpl.nasa.gov/welcome   

Adventure to Mars: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/mars-adventure/en/   

Planet Explorer: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/mars/indepth

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