Mars event may launch students into space careers, director says

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A family event will foster interest in STEM and STEAM.

By Andrew Casas

Scobee Education Center will offer its NASA Journey to Mars event Nov. 9.


Rick Varner, director of Scobee Education Center, said Sept. 12 that the Journey to Mars activities were started in fall 2018.

“The activities are usually hands on and geared toward kids in elementary and middle school,” Varner said.

The Journey to Mars event is a family event to engage children in activities associated with NASA. It is free and open to the community.

The hands-on activities are building paper rockets, working on how to incorporate life on a new planet and engineering design components

The Journey to Mars event Varner says is one of two events that Scobee does with the National Challenger Center in Washington, D.C., throughout the year.

On July 20, Scobee had its Apollo 11 event called Next Giant Leap, which was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The event had about 1,800 people attend.

Activities for the Journey to Mars event are related to STEM and STEAM. STEM is a curriculum based on educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEAM represents STEM plus the arts, involving humanities, language arts, dance, drama, visual arts, design and new media.

Problem-based learning methods are used in a creative process, such as creating a fine arts visual appealing to a product that is based on a STEM concept, according to The, a nonprofit media outlet that provides content from academics and researchers.

Varner said activities at Scobee for children will start at 9 a.m. and continue until 1 p.m.

“We will also show free movies and shows in the planetarium,” he said.

He and planetarium Coordinator Michelle Risse will decide on the shows for that day.

Planetarium shows vary, Varner said.

Aminated shows are for children 6 and up, and other shows will be for ages 10 and above. The maximum capacity is 101.

Varner wanted to emphasize how important Journey to Mars is for students in kindergarten through high school.

“What we do here is geared toward K-12 kids,” Varner said. “It’s challenging and thought provoking, but it’s achievable, attainable.”

Varner expects programs at Scobee to improve.

“Once construction is finished, we will be better,” Varner said. “Part of that construction will be our new Micronauts Center, which will be missions for pre-K through third graders involving STEM research.

“They can try their hand at something a little bit crafty something like engineering,” Varner said. “These activities engage these kids in such a way that they feel like they can do something they might not have thought they could do otherwise.”

Varner said simple activities can make children believe they are doing engineering.

“A rocket made out of paper is not going to fly to Mars, but if it flies to the top of the room, that’s a cool accomplishment for a young kid,” Varner said.

Varner said the Journey to Mars event connects students to NASA and the mission behind space exploration.

Varner believes children today may actually experience flights to Mars.

“These are the kids going to Mars, for me not so much,” Varner said.

“But these kids who are 7 to 12 years old could be in college when the technologies are being developed, and some of these kids could be the astronauts who do that.

“You don’t know,” Varner said. “It could be any one of those kids, Neil Armstrong had to go to school somewhere, and look what he did.”

Even if children don’t become astronauts, Varner said. They can have successful careers in STEM or STEAM.

“Our goal at this program is to change the world one student at a time, and if we change the right student at the right time, that could be huge,” Varner said.

Varner considers community college the gateway to these careers because that’s where many children will start these classes. Then universities will take them the rest of the way.

“We have no ceilings here in space,” Varner said. “So these kids should shoot past the sky. The sky is not the limit it’s just one of the stops along the way.”

For more information, call Varner at 210-486-0402 or email


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