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Science Kids on the Loose

Science Kids on the Loose

Insatiable Curiosity

One undeniable thing I have learned while teaching science to my children is that no matter how many answers we find; we always have more questions. In the questions I can watch Henry and Leo use their intelligence with what ifs and what happens when? At first, when we tried investigations, I was wary of the questions because I wanted to complete the activity at hand, check off the accomplishments, and review what we learned. But that has changed. These days I look forward to the questions because I admire their critical thinking skills. I am proud of their curiosity.
I never thought about encouraging my children to become scientists until we started watching Sid the Science Kid and trying all kinds of science investigations. Now I want them become engineers or biologists or paleontologists just so they can have a career of exploration and curiosity.
Recently, the boys have been all about space exploration. The Star Wars craze here has been building for many months and seems to have hit an apex with the viewing of Return of the Jedi. Henry is taken with the opening phrase: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far way…” To him, these words are truth and he is trying to figure out how to travel to this galaxy far, far away. I don’t discourage him at all, because I think there is a fine line between truth and science fiction sometimes. Henry is convinced if he can find a way to get to a place “far” away then the next logical step is “far far away.” Follow me? Leo is concerned about aliens and if they are coming to Earth for a visit.
Star Wars is fun but nothing beats the true-life drama and intrigue that took place this week at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. We were lucky enough to hear a story in the car last week on NPR about JPL and the upcoming landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity. All weekend long we tuned into the NASA channel for updates and checked out all the amazing resources online for kids at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/. We checked out books from the library and looked at images of the solar system online. Both boys asked many, many questions. Henry wanted to know if there was life on Mars right now and why did water matter? Leo wanted to know if we could cool off the sun with enough water. I wanted to know how to explain the vastness of the universe to two young boys – a difficult but thrilling task.
On Sunday night I made a decision to let the boys stay up until 10:30pm to experience the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. For those of you who may not be familiar with the mission, the drama of landing the car-sized rover centered around the “7 Minutes of Terror” when Curiosity would enter the atmosphere of Mars and attempt a complicated landing…all out of radio control from JPL. The coverage on the NASA channel was great for the kids. There were interesting graphics, views of the control room, and 1 minute animated shorts to help kids understand the engineering and science involved in landing Curiosity.
One of my favorite questions of the evening came from Henry: “How are they planning to get Curiosity back to Earth?”
As I explained that Curiosity was going to stay on Mars and conduct experiments, I watched shock register on Henry’s face. Curiosity was more than a machine to Henry; he was upset at the thought of leaving the rover behind on Mars. I reassured him by explaining that JPL would be communicating with Curiosity and that they would conduct many science experiments together. Maybe Curiosity could tell us if there had every been life on Mars.
Henry, Leo, and I were invested, to say the least. Sadly, Gerry was absent, on a business trip to China. I was missing him a lot, the original NASA fan in the family. Gerry has been enthralled with NASA since he was a young boy collecting patches and had the thrill of watching the moon landing live on TV. I wanted to give Henry and Leo a taste of that.
Sadly, it was not be for the boys. They fell asleep a full 45 minutes before the “7 Minutes of Terror.” I, however, was riveted. I watched as the engineers and scientists literally quaked in their boots waiting to see if Curiosity had landed safely. And I admit to shedding a tear or two when the first images came through and the control room erupted in cheers. It was quite a moment, quite an achievement.
The images from Mars are quite stunning. Here is my favorite.
CuriosityRover.jpg
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
When the boys woke up in the morning we watched the landing again. Henry and Leo jumped up and down and whooped with joy. I hope the memory stays with them. Science can take us anywhere! Just imagine if someday one of my boys could work for NASA at JPL.


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