Journey out of this world: Children find a fun way to live on Mars

December 3, 2018

HARLINGEN — The stars and planets shined brightly above the watchful eyes of their young admirers.

“ It was awesome,” said Ryan Rodriguez, 12, who’d just seen the show in the planetarium at the Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center.

Elementary school children from Harlingen were taking part in demonstrations Saturday called “Journey to Mars.”

Children, parents and teachers filled the room where tables were set up with all sorts of hands-on activities. They included construction of a Mars rover, creation of a Mars habitat and rocket assembly.

The event was held to celebrate NASA’s 60th anniversary. It’s also the fifth anniversary of TSTC’s Challenger Learning Center.

“ We are just trying to promote STEM education as much as possible,” said Yvette Mendoza, program coordinator for the Challenger Learning Center, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Representatives from the Challenger Learning Center in Waco were also present to assist.

One table had activities to teach children about gravity. Two cans, one labeled “Earth” and the other “Mars,” showed the difference in gravity. Children picked up each one and found the “Mars” can to be much lighter.

“ It was pretty cool,” said Jaden Sidney, 10. “I didn’t know it was that much of a difference. I learned something new.”

His friend Ethan Garza concurred.

“ I learned what the difference in gravities are,” said Ethan, also 10. “It’s fun. I liked the planetarium.”

For some, it was a school-related activity.

“ The kids love it,” said Jennifer Garza, a fifth grade science teacher, who’d brought 24 students from the STEM Academy at Ed Downs Elementary. The Academy usually meets on Saturday.

“ We wanted them to have a hands-on activity,” Garza said. “It’s actually fun.”

One of those students was Cassidy Martinez, 10. She and her friends had laid down on a map of the solar system and put their feet against the wall. The size of their ankles were measured before and after, and they were surprised to see the size shrink.

“ The change in blood flow made our ankles smaller,” she said. “It was cool and really interesting.”

India Fordham, program assistant for Waco Challenger Learning Center, explained the exercises, which included the two cans and the angle measurement.

“ We have three exercises in our Phase One,” she said as a continuous stream of children passed by.

“ We are showing that on Mars we weigh less and the blood doesn’t pump as much,” she said.

Phase Three had a station where children could determine how much they would weigh on Mars. Cassidy and her two friends, Jaelyn Trevino and Arianna Gonzalez, had just visited the station.

“ We’d have to weight ourselves,” said Jaely Trevino, 10. “We’d measure it by a certain way, and that’s how much we’d weigh on Mars. I’d only weigh 60 pounds.”

“ Arianna would only weigh two pounds,” Cassidy chimed in.

All three girls laughed good-naturedly. Arianna liked the way organizers made learning fun.

“ I think it’s very fun and very interesting at the same time,” Arianna said.

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