NASA Mars 2020-Inspired Kits to Teach Blackfeet Youth About Space, Science

Perseverance is on its way to Mars. The rover is cruising through space for a touchdown on Mars on February 18, 2021.

Five-hundred NASA science kits were recently distributed to students across the Blackfeet Reservation.

Created in partnership with Blackfeet Community College and through a Northwest Earth and Space Science Pipeline grant from NASA, the kits serve to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education — amid a time when students are learning virtually and desiring access to inspirational and innovative content .

The space and science toolkits encourage youth to get outdoors after months of sequester at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of the COVID emergency, schools all over the state had to go online. In some parts of Montana, the internet connection can be iffy, and a lot of families don’t have Wi-Fi in their homes, so students were doing packets of worksheets,” said Jamie Cornish, outreach specialist for partner Montana State University (MSU) Academic Technology and Outreach (ATO). “Everything began to feel like homework, so kids were less engaged in learning. These kits are a nice way to get kids away from screens and to get them excited about space science.”

RELATED: Native Students Gain Insights Through NASA Internships 

The NASA Mars 2020 mission, which launched in July with a rover called Perseverance, inspired the kits. The rover will seek signs of life on Mars and collect rock and soil samples. 

Each kit includes eight “missions” with an accompanying activity. Some lessons in the kit include collecting rock specimens; using a bug box to gather and examine “signs of life” in their neighborhoods; and using an astronomical calendar to watch for celestial events, MSU ATO stated. 

The kits also include a list of local teachers whom interested students can contact to join NASA robotics teams in the fall. 

Yazzie’s Mission to Mars

Native students seeking an Indigenous role model at NASA can look to Aaron Yazzie (Navajo). Yazzie constructed a pressure inlet that’s playing a pivotal part in a two-year space exploration — Insight — currently underway, probing into the Martian ground to get useful science about the planet’s interior.

Aaron Yazzie, Diné, earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. As a Mechanical Engineer with a focus on Planetary Sample Acquisition and Handling at NASA, Yazzie designs mechanisms for acquiring geological samples from other planets.

He’s also focused on Mars 2020, the Mars Rover project — as the lead engineer for drill bits, determining “how to control the drill and arm to acquire samples” from the red-rock surface of Mars. 

“The Rover is going to drive around and drill into rocks and scoop up soil samples and save them, so that eventually we can bring them back to Earth. It’ll be the first time that we bring anything back to Earth from Mars,” he previously told Native Business. 

Yazzie added: “I may even be in a control room to do operations while in flight.”

Coincidentally, Mars’ crust reminds Yazzie of the Navajo Nation. “My family is from Tuba City, [Arizona] and every time I go back, it looks so similar. That’s something that I’ve been learning — that Earth and Mars are not that different,” Yazzie told Native Business.

Read the full article on Yazzie’s mission to Mars