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|The Mars base in Utah|
Letters to Mars
All Sandshore second-graders recently wrote letters to a researcher living on Mars – well, actually one of the places on Earth most like Mars: southern Utah.
The students put their questions about space and Mars to Geoffrey Andrews, 22-year-old son of Sandshore Reading Partners instructor Sandy Andrews. Mr. Andrews is serving as a crew engineer right now in the Mars Desert Research Station. As part of a team put together by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Mr. Andrews is helping conduct scientific research in the simulated Mars base to glean information that can help prepare for a manned mission to the red planet.
His role is to monitor all systems at the base to ensure that everything is functioning properly and to make all necessary repairs. This involves checking fuel and water levels and inspecting heating, and water-supply systems. He also assists his crewmates with their science experiments including planting crops in a simulated Martian greenhouse, performing geologic surveys, and testing a pair of computerized space boots
The subject of space immediately creates enthusiasm and piques interest for kids – and the second-graders had a variety of questions. In their handwritten letters, some wondered about the climate on Mars, the types of research being done at the Utah habitat, the destructive effects of black holes, whether food can be grow on Mars, and if water exists on the moon.
"The kids were so excited to ask questions and to connect with people really involved in space exploration," said teacher Jennifer Day.
The second-graders will study space later in the school year and hope to either Skype or receive emails from Mr. Andrews and the team in the next few months.
When he's not on Mars, Mr. Andrews is an intern at NASA and a Ph.D. student in Purdue University’s department of aeronautical and astronautical engineering where he studies rocket propulsion and computational fluid dynamics. He graduated from Lehigh University with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering and mechanics, with a minor in aerospace engineering. A fan of flight since he was a child, he received his pilot's license at 16 and could legally fly before he could even drive.
"Flying is the ultimate adventure and spaceflight is perhaps the ultimate form of flight," he said. "Nothing better represents humanity's complex history and astonishing ability to accomplish the impossible and the beautiful than our history in the skies."