How often do you hear someone say they spent their weekend taking a trip to Mars on a school bus in four minutes? On Saturday morning, it happened.
The participants weren't watching throwback episodes of The Magic School Bus. They were at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, on a virtual reality mission to Mars courtesy of Lockheed Martin's Beyond Program. The two groups hope to inspire the next generation of explorers.
Why travel to Mars on a school bus without Ms. Frizzle? The bus gives visitors a chance to "drive" 200 square miles on Mars' surface, view the Mars Curiosity Rover and pass through an imagined first base camp. The 30-passenger Mars Experience Bus took 100 people five months to create, so it isn't magic, though its capabilities feel endless.
NASA believes the first official mission to MARS will happen in 2030, which means kids who are boarding school buses today could be boarding rocketships in the future.
"I think it's important to know that these kinds of careers and these kinds of experiences are within reach," says Joseph W. Stout, director of communications for Lockheed Martin. "If young people set the goal now that they want to be an engineer ... they can do that."
It goes beyond dreaming of becoming astronauts, he says: "There are many different aspects of engineering that are required for these missions."
Madison Mulligan is one such future engineer. "I think I want to help launch things into space, but I don't want to be an astronaut," the 4th grader says, "because there are so many things that can happen or go wrong on a mission."
The bus isn't expected to make it back to the Perot soon, but Earthlings can catch it Jan. 14 and 15 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On this special weekend, busgoers will need to first purchase a ticket to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
The bus will then be at the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston. (Lucky!)
BY JAMISHA DANIELS/Special Contributor