JPL – “Imagine Mars”

Class developed and conducted by Tony Yao

Back in the summer of 2006, I had the distinct honor of leading the first Art Center: Public Programs / NASA / JPL joint-venture project for “Imagine Mars”.

When NASA/JPL first approached Art Center about doing a joint-venture project, they wanted to work with a NON-DAY Program class; meaning no adult college level students.  NASA/JPL wanted to work with younger kids to see what their imaginations could come up with for what life would be like on the planet Mars.

Out of all the public program instructors, I was selected by the Director of Art Center Public Programs to lead the class to liason with NASA/JPL.  So, I was invited to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to meet with the Imagine Mars project representative to co-ordinate the project.  NASA/JPL first thought that in working with younger children, that they would get finger paint and Crayola level work from the students; that all changed when I showed them my photo album of my high school class’ previous works.  The rep exclaimed, “We can get that?!!” when he saw the photos of the work my amazing high schools students.  They were ecstatic at the thought of getting professional level work from teenagers.

After discussing the project and expectations at great length, the project was a go for Summer 2006.  At the beginning of every term, there is always great anticipation for what surprise project I will have for my Saturday High Advanced Product and Transportation Class.  The class loved to guess and speculate on what I have chosen as our project direction.  After teasing them a bit, I told them that they too had the honor of being part of the first Art Center: Public Programs / NASA/JPL joint-venture project for “Imagine Mars”.

We were to imagine what life would be like on Mars for the first colonists to settle there.  The class had to take into account specific things that affected the Mars environment, such as the gravity of Mars which was only 1/3 that of earth, what would they eat, how would they breath & create oxygen, and what kind of experiencesthey would encounter during their stay there.  This was quite a task for the high school students, but they rose to the challenge.

As usual, we only had 10 weeks to complete the project, so there was no time to waste.  The students had to research, design, sketch, render, and built actual 3D hard models, and complete a group presentation room all within 10 weeks.  The project was daunting, but we more than successfully completed the project.

NASA/JPL was thoroughly impressed by my class and their work!  So much so that they even sent a camera crew to film the final presentation and interview the students to be featured on the Disney DVD “Imagine Mars”.

This project was so well received by NASA/JPL that we did another joint-venture project with them the following summer with an even larger class and bigger challenges.  This was truly one of the memorable highlights of my teaching career, and I was proud to be a part of it.