Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium, School of Journalism, and Museum have been selected to receive a NASA TEAM II Remote Opportunities Rapid Response grant.
Their funded project, "World Building on Mars", will engage middle school students in urban planning and designing communities for living on Mars. Key personnel on the grant are Dr. Shannon Schmoll of the Abrams Planetarium, J-School Professor Stacey Fox, and Dr. Denice Blair of the MSU Museum.
The project aims to create virtual programming, based on an earlier program collaboration between the Abrams Planetarium and the MSU Museum called "The Martian Design Studio."
The program worked with a local non-profit to work with middle school girls to develop human settlements on Mars, by providing programming on the science and exploration of the planet and urban planning. This resulted in a temporary MSU Museum exhibition, where students displayed their projects for public view.
The NASA Grant will fund the next phase of this project, leading to the development of an interactive, immersive 360 simulation of the Mars environment. It will feature augmented reality components, such as 360 virtual and 3D renderings, bringing to life the student designs for human settlements on the planet Mars.
It will be realistic and detailed, using NASA's images from its rovers on Mars and the students' conceptualizations for structures to sustain life.
Schmoll said the project is exciting because the group will be able to work with students to think and come up with their own ideas that extend from various sciences, urban planning, and engineering.
"Science and exploration of the solar system takes big teams with different areas of expertise," Schmoll said. "And the fact we will get to help their ideas come alive in a virtual Mars will be beneficial both during and well beyond the pandemic."
Fox said she is looking forward to the moment when the students immerse into the 360 interactive immersive AR experience for the first time, and experience their own designs fully rendered in 3D across the Martian landscape.
"It is always such an honor to work with students and see their visions," Fox said. "They are the designers of tomorrows on other worlds."
Blair said the collaborative environment design will create a truly problem-based experience for middle school students, which will challenge them to integrate knowledge about Mars, history of the NASA Mars program, urban planning, and multiple grade-level STEM skills.
"We are very excited about this new NASA-funded partnership. The MSU Museum, the University's science and culture museum, provides our visitors powerful interactions with science content," Blair said. "We have a great opportunity here to go even further by creating an amazing, Mars-focused STEM learning experience for middle school students and their teachers. We look forward to working with all the partners to develop this unique education program."
Mary Lisa Almonte Konett, the Lansing School District secondary district instructional coach, said the projects with Michigan State University and the Abrams have changed the students' views and perception of the night sky.
"For the past two academic years, I have had the honor of working with Abrams Planetarium Staff to enrich the science curriculum of Sexton High School's Lansing School District eighth graders," Konett said. "These opportunities are fine-tuned to my urban student population to be meaningful and inspirational."