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NASA scientist tells North Hall sixth-graders they could go to Mars
Gale Allen, NASA deputy chief scientist, gave sixth-graders in the Earhart-Edison Exploration Academy at North Hall Middle School the official patches for the upcoming American-Russian study for a year in the space station. Allen said astronauts design a logo for every exploration. - photo by Kristen Oliver

Sixth-graders in North Hall County spent Thursday morning dreaming of walking on Mars.

The Earhart-Edison Exploration Academy at North Hall Middle School sixth-graders were visited by Gale Allen, NASA deputy chief scientist. Allen worked on the Mars Landing Rover project and told students about the future of Mars exploration.

“You all are the future,” Allen said, “whether it’s with NASA space exploration or in some other field.”

Allen said NASA aims to have a human on Mars by 2035, which means the 12-year-olds in the E2 Academy are part of the generation likely to make up that mission.

“I want to make sure you get to see how exciting some of the careers are and they’re open for everyone,” she said. “Whatever you want to do, as long as you have the desire and work for it, you can have it.”

Allen discussed NASA’s various missions, particularly its plans for human exploration. She said it is an area where NASA’s technology is still lacking.

“We cannot get a human to Mars right now,” she said. “We do not have the capability, but that’s what we’re working on.”

She broke down for students the various space missions by distance. The first level is “Earth-reliant” missions, meaning it takes only hours or even a day to get back in case of emergency. The space station falls in the Earth-reliant zone, and two Russian vehicles are always at the space station in the event of such emergencies.

“Proving ground” explorations include asteroid studies and lunar exploration. The farthest missions NASA is working on now are called “Mars ready.” It will take six months to get to Mars, and the astronauts would remain for approximately two years for thorough studies.

“We have to make sure all the technology and the capability are with them,” she said. “They have to take everything with them, the air, the food. It’s like a major complex camping activity.”

Kathy Mellette, E2 co-coordinator, said the presentation was a great learning experience for the students.

“This reinforces our ideas of why (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is important,” Mellette said to the students. “I don’t mean you have to major in math, but what you’re seeing is all the opportunities for careers and jobs in this.”

Students had a number of questions for Allen, including whether NASA is ever inspired by science fiction works, what college degree is needed to become an astronaut and whether or not plants or machinery could convert the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere to oxygen for human beings.

Allen said she enjoys speaking to schools because of the students’ enthusiasm.

“The kids give me inspiration as much as I hope to give them inspiration,” she said. “Their questions are awesome. I love it, and I really do want to make this the next generation of space explorers.”