Mission to Mars

A big shoutout to Mike Penn and Debbie Reynolds for their presentation at the Space Exploration Educators Conference at Space Center Houston!

Space Center Houston @SpaceCenterHou
In the sim classroom, we’re headed to Mars with our #SEEC25 team! Each group has been assigned a role, along the way they’ll need to fix the problems that arise…will they make it? #STEMeducation

Mike used a shrink ray to fit the IKS Titan simulator into his luggage.  They set up the ship, assigned the attendees roles, and sent them on a daring rescue mission to Mars.

Space Center Houston @SpaceCenterHou
Our #SEEC25 team has had some trouble on their way to Mars! From security alerts to environmental warnings, they’ve got a lot to do if they’re going to make it! It’s going to take a lot of teamwork! No pressure! #STEMeducation

Space Center Houston @SpaceCenterHou
Mission success! In an incredible display of teamwork and perseverance, the #SEEC25 team completed their mission to Mars while learning of the usefulness of sim classrooms to facilitate #STEMeducation!

Despite a few bumps and bruises along the way—no Dream Flight mission is complete without a hair-raising emergency, after all—the crew successfully completed their mission and rescued an astronaut stranded on Mars.  Well done to Mike, Debbie, and the entire crew!

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Think Warm Thoughts

Hey everybody, Mike Penn needs our help!  He’s doing science at the South Pole, so he needs everyone to think warm thoughts and send them his way.  Brrrrr!

If you haven’t been reading Mike’s journals from his Antarctic expedition, you’re really missing out.  This past week he’s shared all about:

Station Life at the South Pole

How to use Black Magic and Trigonometry to Find the South Pole

Student Q&A and South Pole Station Tour

Flat White and Leafy Green

I’m not going to explain what that means… just check out the video and journal.  You won’t regret it.



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I’m on the Naughty List

I have a confession to make:  I’ve been naughty.  I’ve been excitedly following Mike Penn’s bold adventures in the Antarctic, but I haven’t been as diligent in relaying them here on our blog.

That said, I’m sure this doesn’t affect any of you, because you’ve undoubtedly been following Mike’s journals yourself.  If not, you’re even more on the Naughty List than I am.

But for those who want to share Mike’s adventures with their friends and family over this holiday season, here are some of the major highlights:

  1. Mike departed Pennsylvania on Nov 23, leaving the IKS Titan in the capable hands of Admiral Perseverous, a.k.a. Heather Oros.
  2. Mike traveled into the future on his way to New Zealand.  He’s been one day ahead of us for quite some time now (until very recently, when he attained full-fledged Time Lord status).
  3. He received his Extreme Cold Weather gear, as is the kiwi fashion these days.
  4. Mike took an Ice Flight onboard a Boeing C-17 military transport plane…
    and then rode in Ivan the Terra Bus!
  5. Mike’s amazing boondoggle skills

    attracted the attention of some scientists working on the Automatic Precipitation System,

    who kidnapped him and carried him away for forced labor on the Ross Ice Shelf.
    I’m pretty sure at least half of that is correct, but I can’t say which half.
  6. Mike escaped, found his way back to McMurdo Station, and hid among the really exciting vehicles.
  7. He teamed up with an impressive gang of scientists to study seals…pressure ridges
    and extreme Antarctic weather.
  8. Details on this are admittedly sketchy, but it seems that while waiting for a flight Mike and his colleagues engaged in open war against New Zealand.
  9. Duty called, and Mike set to work repairing and upgrading a network of Automatic Weather Stations,
    hoisting them high above the frozen maw of the ice plains, which gradually try to engulf them.
  10. Antarctica’s weather didn’t take too kindly to being automatically monitored, so it retaliated by thwarting Mike’s plans to travel south for the winter for over a week.  But eventually, warmer heads prevailed and Mike flew south until he couldn’t any more.
  11. It was there, at the southern-most tip of the globe, that Mike Penn walked around the world and bent time and space to his frostbitten will.

    “I stepped from TODAY into YESTERDAY (that is where you are…just so you know). Then I stepped from yesterday BACK INTO TOMORROW!” – Mike Penn, Time Lord

The South Pole is absolutely fascinating, and I strongly recommend that you read Mike’s full journals about it.  They’re doing some really exciting science there, and I can’t wait to tell you all about the top-secret government research that [TRANSMISSION TERMINATED]


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Happy Thanksgiving from DFA

I have an incredibly abundant list of things to be thankful for, but today I’m going to focus on just one:  I’m thankful for Mike Penn.

Mike was our very first Flight Director—with us right at the beginning.  He embraced this crazy concept with open arms and ran with it, making the IKS Titan a huge success.  He pioneered DFA flight directing, established our vibrant community of practice, and helped spread the program to thousands of students across two continents.

Mike wasn’t alone in this—we’ve all been surrounded by wonderful supporting partners all along the way—and we’re extremely thankful for them.  But today I’m focusing on Mike Penn, because within the next 48 hours Mike will be flying south for the winter.

WAY south.

He’ll fly so south he won’t be in winter anymore.

He’ll travel so south he won’t be able to go south anymore!

Mike’s PolarTREC expedition to the South Pole begins tomorrow.  And we’re going to miss him.

But fear not!  All is not lost.  Mike will be reporting about his journey, and we’ll be relaying his discoveries here on this blog.  Communications may be sporadic.  It’s hard to predict how often Mike will be able to send out his weather-hardened carrier pigeons with his latest field journals… but rest assured when they arrive we’ll be ready to receive them.

Mike, we’re completely thrilled about your upcoming adventure.  Thank you for everything you do!  You’re an amazing partner, teacher, and friend.  Good luck, try to stay warm, and God speed!

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Musical Solar System Adventure Onboard the Mission Mobile

Today we’re delighted to highlight some of the exciting events that have been happening in the greater Washington D.C. area with the Explore! Children’s Museum’s Mission Mobile (a.k.a. IKS Horizon).

We all have a favorite artist and/or a favorite genre of music. Music’s inspiration comes from anywhere. We hear its varied inspirations in all music from the symphonies of Beethoven to the contemporary hip-hop on the radio. But how does that inspiration manifest? How does an artist move from inspiration to a fully realized composition that lives in our car or, alone, in our headphones?

Mission Mobile explores that very question. In its music composition activity, students draw inspiration from our very own Solar System. Mission Mobile invites students on board to create short compositions based upon each of the eight planets in our Solar System.

Utilizing the same critical-thinking, imagination, and collaboration that our simulated missions require, students answer and analyze questions like:

  • Saturn has rings made of ice. What does that sound like to you?
  • Mercury is the smallest and densest planet. Is that a big sound or a soft sound?
  • Venus’ day is longer than its year. Is that a slow or fast sound?

Guided by Mission Mobile’s Mobile Outreach Manager with his guitars and pedals, students build short compositions utilizing a
plethora of percussion instruments. In just under ten minutes time, students go from nothing at all to the beginnings of a full planetary suite!

Recently the Mission Mobile took its musical solar system adventure to two different community events. Children at both Riverdale Park Station and the Shiloh Community Festival went on a journey around the Galaxy with opportunities to compose their own instrumental pieces inspired by the planets.

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Announcing the IKS Marvel

We’ve dropped a few not-so-subtle hints about this over the past several weeks, but today we’re delighted to announce the construction of a brand new simulator—the IKS Marvel—at Dansville Elementary School in Dansville, Michigan!  Dansville Schools is an innovative, forward-thinking district, and we are delighted to be partnering with them on this exciting journey.

The IKS Marvel will be led by Angela St. Amant—a.k.a. Admiral Ameliorous—who has been an educator at Dansville Schools for over 15 years and currently serves as a technology and STEAM teacher, K-8.  She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from Western Michigan University as well as an MA in Literacy Instruction and her Administration Certificate, both from Michigan State University.  She’s a perfect fit for Flight Director as the IKS Marvel takes off!

Construction of the simulator is well underway and is progressing nicely.

Here’s a view from the Captain’s level, looking down over the crew stations toward the front of the ship.

The ship is built by skilled craftsmen and artisans using only the finest in modern tritanium alloys.

Once the dust settles, what used to be a traditional classroom will be transformed into an out-of-this world learning environment!  We can’t wait to begin flying missions into the unknown with Dansville’s best and brightest!

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Receiving Data Stream…

Incoming encrypted transmission… please stand by.

Data stream encrypted:  01000100 01100001 01101110 01110011 01110110 01101001 01101100 01101100 01100101


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More Cleaning?

Where did the ceiling go?  That’s probably normal.

And now the floor’s gone too?  Very strange…

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What’s this?

What’s this?  The typical summer cleaning?

Nah, it’s probably nothing…

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3-2-1 Liftoff

With summer break right around the corner, we’re delighted to share the “vacation” plans of one of our fabulous Flight Directors!  While Mike Penn prepares for his expedition to the icy Antarctic, Debbie Reynolds is zooming around the globe teaching tomorrow’s astronauts all about the final frontier—space!

Debbie was selected as a new Teacher Liaison for the Space Foundation, and as part of that role she was invited to this year’s Space Symposium, the largest space-focused conference in the world!  It was a wonderful experience and she had the opportunity to hear from experts in the field from commercial sectors, the military, and NASA.  Debbie loved seeing the new Dream Chaser space plane.

In June Debbie will head to Huntsville for the Honeywell Educators Space Academy, followed by a brief layover for her son’s wedding (congrats Debbie!), and then she’ll head to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to attend the first-ever Space Port Area Conference for Educators (SPACE) in July.

And if that’s not enough for an out-of-this-world summer “vacation,” Debbie will fly from Orlando to Shenzhen, China to teach a space and STEM camp to Chinese students for a month.  Congrats Debbie for doing amazing work to promote STEM education all around to globe!

Debbie with retired Astronaut Ronald M. Sega, Ph. D.

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