Description of the project
Spaceward Bound is an inquiry-based astrobiology and educational Moon-Mars analogue science expedition organised with the endorsement of NASA. Spaceward Bound originated at NASA Ames Research Center in 2006. The primary mission of Spaceward Bound is to train the next generation of space explorers by teaming scientists with students and teachers to explore scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogues for human exploration of the Moon, Mars, and other planets: http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/spacewardbound. Previous Spaceward Bound destinations have included the USA, Canada, Namibia, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, New Zealand and India. New Spaceward Bound expeditions in Romania are in the planning stages.
Started in 2014 as a New Zealand Initiative for Astrobiology, with an initial goal to identify astrobiology subject matter experts in New Zealand and seek the involvement of astrobiology experts from abroad, a project called Spaceward Bound New Zealand 2015 brought together national and international astrobiologists, students and teachers in a pilot experiment, which assessed the knowledge gap and demand for astrobiology in New Zealand.
The conclusion of the programme was that for New Zealand, in terms of STEM education involvement, astrobiology needs to start at a secondary school level, and the concept of Spaceward Bound New Zealand for Youth was born.
The programme has two distinct parts: fieldwork and theoretical work as well as a cultural and a scientific component. There will be a open-day technology fields-on rover building at the Marae and lectures followed by three research field trips (weather permitting).
Visiting locations in active volcanic terrains of central North Island gives us the opportunity to observe extremes of geology and life (in hot springs) in our own backyard. For example at Hell’s Gate we will learn about life’s adaptations to high temperatures and the geological processes that both shape and destroy this life, which provides insights on conditions of habitability in both terrestrial (including early Earth conditions >3 billion years ago) and potentially extra-terrestrial realms. Field study as well as classroom presentations, which will address the NZ Curriculum – Earth and Space Sciences subject will allow us to learn more about life, its origins and its extremes.
Incorporating cultural teaching into the programme allows us to create a framework for the delivery of the knowledge. Back at the headquarters the students will have the ability to discuss and compare the samples collected in the field work, make observations and use the microscopes. Microscopic examination of thin sections from university, industry and GNS collections will provide additional depth to the student and teacher investigations. The following subjects will be addressed during the talks and laboratory work: astrobiology, geology, biology, planetary protection, astronomy, robotics, GIS and space food safety requirements.
Spaceward Bound New Zealand for Youth will include a keynote presentation and closing presentations on space exploration and cultural understandings of astronomy and space throughout the programme. These will be delivered through a Mātauranga Māori framework and using Te Reo Māori symbols and concepts, such as guardianship and celestial navigation. By studying volcanic and geothermal terrains of the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), the participants will learn about processes that create these landscapes and possibly similar surface features on other planetary bodies like Mars. Complementary focus will be the significance of extremophile habitats in guiding the search for life elsewhere in the solar system. The expedition will use hands on field equipment to characterise the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks and the physical and chemical properties of the waters.
Additional hands-on activities may include: (1) small science rover competitions to learn about the challenges of exploration beyond Earth; (2) creating a rock kit that the students will take back to their schools to learn about geology in the context of planetary exploration; (3) tramping the Tararua with professional volcanologist(s) and discussing planetary landscapes similarities/differences with Earth; (4) learning some basic environmental microbiology in extreme analogue environments for early life on Earth and possible habitats for past life on Mars; and/or (5) learning the basics of celestial navigation and star-gazing. (6) Robotics workshop where participants will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on robotic activities.
Inquiry-based field work will be supplemented by lectures supported by experts both from within New Zealand and from international organizations. What sets Spaceward Bound for Youth apart from other programmes is the astrobiology field research component in a location that is world famous for its varied extreme environments. This engages students to work alongside and with the scientists in the field, and contribute to collection of real research data that can help make scientific discoveries.
Participants will work directly with scientist instructors from New Zealand Universities, GNS Science and NASA.
The subjects are matched to the Earth and Space Sciences Curriculum stream and are supported by online material. The expedition will use Web 2.0 technology to provide interactive outreach with the support of Eagle Technology Group. Using ArcGIS Online, Esri’s cloud mapping technology, interactive web maps will be created documenting Spaceward Bound for Youth field trip activities such as experiment sites, field trip routes and points of interest. These interactive web maps will showcase field trip photos, experiment findings and other relevant information via pop-ups and will provide a communication mechanism enabling other interested parties to follow field trip activities and explore the various environments studied. The information will be provided for schools free of charge.
New Zealand features some of the best sites in the world to study astrobiology-related extreme environments. The geographical setup, dynamic and active geological setting, and the science capability of New Zealand support the study of astrobiology. Within its Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand has unique extremophiles in the hot springs, and recent and current explosive volcanism. Other accessible regions are the K-Pg Boundary (Marlborough Region) and the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. New Zealand is also a world-leader in biosecurity (essential to planetary protection) and has a rich cultural heritage derived from exploration, as Polynesians and Europeans arrived here guided by the stars. New Zealand’s scientists encompass most of the required fields in astrobiology: microbiology, ecology, biosecurity, physics, astronomy, radio astronomy and geology. This represents an accessible yet rich knowledge base of local expertise.