AFRL NM STEM Academy “HOPES- Mission to Mars” is going virtual

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — The Air Force Research Laboratory New Mexico STEM Academy will be hosting its second virtual “Mission to Mars” for 5th grade students. Students are invited to participate in five months of activities, centered on planning a simulated manned-mission to Mars.

“Our first virtual Mission to Mars, which we held last spring, had 135 students from 27 cities and 11 states,” said Ronda Cole, AFRL New Mexico STEM Academy Director. “It was such a big success that we are taking the lessons learned in that first virtual event, and doing it all again this fall.”

This year’s program is called “Mars Hovering Observational Planetary Exploration System (HOPES) Mission”, and will have a special emphasis on the current NASA’s Mars exploration mission, “Perseverance Rover” which is using AFRL-developed technologies on the rover and its helicopter experiment, the “Ingenuity”.

“It’s especially exciting that we can learn about the first-ever winged vehicle to fly on Mars, and that our very own scientists and engineers helped to make that project a reality,” Cole said. “It is scheduled to land in February 2021, giving us an exciting milestone to celebrate together.”

During the five months of “Base Operations”, several Zoom sessions will be held with AFRL STEM professionals, with each session focusing on a specific aspect of the mission, with time for the students to ask questions at the end.

There are plenty of fun activities planned and students will have the opportunity to participate in several Kahoot! games, to hone their knowledge of Mars facts.

“Building upon the positive results of the spring virtual event, AFRL has created a hybrid version of the “Mission to Mars” that will incorporate online resources that include interactions with STEM professionals as the students prepare for and carry out the mission,” Cole said.

Registration will take place until Sept. 30, with teacher/parent orientation sessions in October, the program launching in November, and wrapping up in April 2021.

Parents and teachers are asked to register students at

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image of event

Student inflate habitats during the 2019 Mission to Mars at the Albuquerque Convention Center May 10, 2019. The Air Force Research Laboratory New Mexico’s STEM Outreach branch put on the mission, with more than 1,300 fifth-grade students from schools across the Albuquerque area and New Mexico taking part in the massive science and engineering experiment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Fisher)