Spaceward Bound was established in 2006 at NASA and involves classroom teachers in authentic planetary analog fieldwork, side-by-side with NASA scientists. Teachers can bring that experience back to their classrooms and assist in the development of curriculum related to human exploration of remote and extreme environments.
Field work in New Zealand
New Zealand Spaceward Bound is currently focused on the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ).
By studying volcanic and geothermal terrains of the TVZ, the participants learn about processes that create these landscapes and possibly similar surface features on other planetary bodies. A complementary focus is be on the significance of extremophile habitats in guiding the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.
The course uses space exploration as a hook to investigate the tenacity of life in hostile environments. It is intended that this hook can be used in classroom if the teacher desires.
Extreme environments on Earth are considered as analogues for habitats supporting extraterrestrial life in present and future planetary exploration missions.
The instructional staff focuses on fossil hydrothermal systems as a possible analogous habitat guiding the search for life on Mars, and samples are gathered during the expedition for geological and biological analyses.
The expedition uses when available field instrumentation to characterise the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks as well as the physical and chemical properties of the waters.
Additionally there may be opportunities to view and use small science rovers, which help to illustrate the challenges of exploration beyond Earth.
Discussion forums and lab work
Talks are done in the field wherever possible, with the local ecology and geology as visual aids.
Participants work directly with scientist instructors from the New Zealand Astrobiology Network, GNS Science, NASA and NZ universities. Microscopic examination of thin sections from university, industry and GNS collections provide additional resources for the student and teacher investigations.
The following subjects are addressed during the discussion forums and laboratory work: astrobiology, geology, biology, planetary protection, astronomy, robotics, GIS and space food requirements.
The subjects are matched to the Earth and Space Sciences Curriculum stream and are supported by online material.