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PMIEF Grant to the Space Foundation Inspires Out of this World Project Management

The saying “shoot for the moon” may seem a bit cliché, but the Space Foundation has been doing just that for over three decades. Founded in 1983, it is the foremost advocate for all sectors of space and a global leader in space awareness activities, educational programs and major industry events. Guided by its mission “to advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity,” the organization serves more than 50,000 people worldwide each year through research, teacher training and professional development activities for promising space professionals under age 35.

PMIEF awarded a two-year, US$192,125 grant to the Space Foundation in 2016 for “Out of This World Project Management!” The funds have allowed the organization to create a new, project management-rich Mars Robotics Laboratory field trip for students and teachers. The grant will reach an estimated 375 secondary school students and 15 teachers in Pikes Peak, Colorado, USA, and Pune, Maharashtra, India by its conclusion in 2018 even as the Space Foundation will offer the field trip experience long after the grant ends.

Leveraging our Project Management Toolkit for Teachers, the Space Foundation’s team of education specialists designed curricula for classroom instruction and the field trip after participating in multiple days of training on the resource to familiarize themselves with its content and project management fundamentals. The team then trained five Colorado secondary school teachers in the curricula, after which the teachers delivered the lessons to 135 students across five schools. Students collaborated in small groups for their simulated space mission, selecting one of four missions in which to participate by using iPads and LEGO equipment to role play their assignments during an on-site visit to the grant-funded Mars Robotics Laboratory.

Missions included:

  1. Search for Water: Groups utilized infrared data from a satellite they built and operated as well as examined soil samples obtained by their astronaut’s extravehicular activity (EVA) to determine the best place to search for water on Mars
  2. Search for Life: Groups analyzed data (including microscopic specimens) collected during the water mission to determine the best locations on Mars to search for possible life
  3. Engineering Design Challenge: Groups analyzed satellite data to select the best location on Mars to design and to build a bridge onto which their Mars rover could drive to collect data for their astronaut’s EVA
  4. Geology: Groups analyzed satellite and EVA data to locate lava tubes (which protect from solar radiation) on Mars for future settlements on the planet

Students also assumed specific roles in each group, including project manager, mission commander, communications officer, media specialist, mission specialist, rover driver, medical officer, and astronaut. Each group developed a final report on the data collected and analyzed following the field trip. Most chose to present a NASA-style “press conference” about their experience to parents, students, district leaders, and the Space Foundation team. They commented that “planning out everything and getting things done at or ahead of schedule,” “learning new things about teamwork and Mars” and “working through unplanned problems” were highlights of their experience.

For Bryan DeBates, Vice President of Education at the Space Foundation, the Mars Robotics Laboratory has been a long time coming. “This lab is what I’d been dreaming since I designed it eight years ago,” he said, “and the students’ experience was even more amazing than I’d hoped.” DeBates and his team will expand the initiative’s reach during the 2017-2018 school year through the virtual delivery of teacher training and student field trips to India while still offering the on-site experience in Colorado. In addition, the Space Foundation will bring teachers in the U.S. and India together via video conference to discuss lessons learned and key takeaways.

In total, an estimated 375 secondary school students (250 in the U.S. and 125 in India) will learn project management thanks to our grant. The Space Foundation will continue to offer the Mars Robotics Laboratory field trip after PMIEF’s funding concludes, especially given its low-cost sustainability. The education team will also continue to help secondary school STEM teachers around the world integrate project management into their instruction and expects to easily integrate project management into other Space Foundation field trips.


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