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Geeky Parent Guide: Learning about Space and Beyond with Your Family

Earlier this year, we took a look at NASA’s Goddard Visitor Center and the International Space Station and what awesome things were happening or ways parents could get immersed in science with their kiddos. There seems to be so much happening regarding the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields that it might seem overwhelming to try and help your family stay updated on things they have an interest in.

Today, let’s explore some of the amazing projects that have already taken place or look to the future with mission updates. Let’s blast off immediately!

Falcon Heavy Launch / Starman and the Tesla Roadster

“When Falcon Heavy lifted off, it became the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two.” For those that did not see this epic moment in history, SpaceX did something incredibly unique and inspiring to see for all science and science fiction fans. Along with building, testing, and launching the Falcon Heavy, their efforts did not stop there, as they hoped to achieve successful re-entry for its boosters. Although the center booster did not meet its landing mark, the side boosters landed simultaneously, giving all viewers a sense of watching something out of a movie.

As for the Roadster, it successfully launched into space on February 6 of this year from the Kennedy Space Center, with images captured from a live video feed provided early on after the launch allowing everyone to get a special view from the space travelling car. This one-of-a-kind adventure is something for parents to point to their kids and say, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

If you and your kids are wondering what happened to that Roadster and its passenger, check out “Where Is Roadster?” [Thank you, Gizmodo Australia!] for a continuous estimation of its location. “The current location is 54,172,620 miles from Earth,” and it keeps on moving.

Mars Helicopter

What could be cooler than a car being launched into space and flying around our solar system? How about the project that seeks to successfully deliver a helicopter to Mars?

Yes, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 and will be sending another rover to the red planet, and this particular rover will be bringing its own passenger – a helicopter. Not only is this project fascinating, since it would be a first of its kind on Mars, but parents and their kids can dive into the process involved to lift this project from the ground up. With varying atmospheric conditions compared to Earth, scientists have had to find a way to build something that will sustain flight on Mars and do so by means of automation.

“’The altitude record for a helicopter flying on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up,’ said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).” If your kids enjoy creating or building things, this scientific endeavor will expand their understanding of engineering and possibly want to only create non-Earth based vehicles or structures.

“The result of the team’s four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.” As a parent, it’s an exciting prospect if my kids want to go into a STEM field. There is long-term planning involved, tons of experiments, failures, and successes, and in this case, propels our understanding of Martian planets.

Parker Solar Probe

“The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.”

From an early age, we’re always told, “Don’t stare at the sun.” It’s a basic understanding to protect our eyes. Studying the sun more intensely is fundamental for those looking to understand the inherent physical properties associated with providing life on Earth. If kids are interested in becoming a meteorologist, have they ever considered learning about a different kind of weather?

“Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The more we learn about what causes space weather – and how to predict it – the more we can protect satellites we depend on.” When the sun flexes its “muscle” by shooting out gases, this solar wind flies through space at extreme speeds. As technological advances happen, it allows us to further understand everything around us, including the Sun. Families can review the probe’s mission details, which include various objectives – its path to orbit the sun, a timeline that extends to 2025, and the team responsible for this planned project.

The approximate launch date for the Parker Solar Probe, initially listed from July 31 through August 19, 2018, will now be “no earlier than August 4” at the Kennedy Space Center.

Mapping the “Sky” with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

TESS launched earlier this year (April 9) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral. Scientists are searching space with TESS to find potential planets by examining stars – “The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits.”

What is absolutely fascinating about this mission is the fact that “TESS will survey the entire sky over the course of two years by breaking it up into 26 different sectors…the spacecraft will stare at each sector for at least 27 days, looking at the brightest stars at a two-minute cadence.”

Two years?! As a geeky parent, it is an amazing prospect that a catalogue of planets will be available for kids to further research in the future. If your kids have created a solar system for a science fair or conducted some kind of planetary research, this will be a mission to follow moving forward.

Juno’s Extended Cycle

Juno was launched in August 2011 and arrived to Jupiter in July 2016. Compared to the New Horizons spacecraft aimed at Pluto, both being part of “NASA’s New Frontier Program,” Juno reached Jupiter in under five years next to over nine years for New Horizons. Technology advances are literally catching up to spacecraft launched years prior.

Parents also have a unique opportunity to highlight adaptation to their kids. In addition to extending operations until July 2021, scientists have had to adjust the flight plan to accommodate potential equipment issues – “Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system.” NASA has analyzed the situation and extended the life of Juno by rerouting its path. This ingenuity provides a positive example of problem-solving for kids, especially when it involves a project that took years to plan, years to arrive to its destination, and also has years more to collect data.

There are plenty of data points NASA would like to collect from its spacecraft. “Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.” Juno is such a big deal, because Jupiter is “the biggest and baddest planet in the solar system,” that NASA’s JPL produced its own movie trailer – and that is a great way for movie fans to dive into space.

Also, stay tuned for an update over at NASA on July 16 as “Juno will make its 13th science flyby over Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops.”

There are many things happening in the world of space exploration and scientific discoveries. In fact, a SpaceX Dragon delivery to the International Space Station is aimed to benefit cancer research and cement analysis. Let’s not forget about “Oumuamua – the first interstellar object ever observed in our solar system.” If your kids enjoy comets, this giant mass displayed comet-like similarities when its speed increased as gases shot out from the surface.

If you and your kids want to follow and stay current with NASA, they have plenty of social media avenues to keep track of, and this includes many of the research laboratories, space centers, and the missions themselves having their own channels to follow. As for SpaceX, “with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets,” their website also provides updates and social media platforms to follow as they pursue their mission.

What do you and your kids love to track in space? Do you have a favorite mission? If you like this content and want to see more of it, please make sure to like and rate this article below, share it online, and start conversations with your geeky friends on Facebook and Twitter.

If you and your kiddos are looking to get a little crafty, don’t forget to check out A Geek’s Guide to Cross-Stich: Journeys in Space over at Fanbase Press. This is a perfect opportunity for all crafters to combine their love of the final frontier with original cross-stich patterns revolving around various NASA missions.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor



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