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Mars landscape has students reaching for the stars

Space Industry

An Australian school space centre featuring an interactive Mars landscape is preparing to inspire its first students.

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Hamilton Secondary College, in the southern suburbs of Adelaide, will officially open its space centre at a ceremony during the International Astronautical Congress in the South Australian capital next week.

The centre – the first of its kind in the state – will be used by all of the school’s 1000 students as well as many visiting primary school from next month.

“Even students from pre-schools will be able to come in to observe and recreate what they have seen so it’s really engaging young people to raise their curiosity,” Principal Peta Kourbelis said.

The three-room centre includes a briefing room with theatre-style seating where students receive and plan their missions, a mission control room where students support the team of astronauts and the planet surface room.

The Mars room, below, features seven different types of rocks – and loads of red dirt – across six geological zones and lighting that can simulate a variety of conditions including storms, sunrise and red sunsets.

While many students at the school have the opportunity to study an intense STEM program, the space centre experience involves one-day missions where students are split into two teams of 12.

One team acts as mission support in the control room to monitor the weather on the planet and maintain communications in case one of Mars’ infamous storms approaches.

“The astronauts’ job is to analyse the surface and collect samples – sometimes there will be a robot or a rover with them,” Kourbelis said.

“They then take the specimens out and analyse them in the lab.

“It covers Geology, Environment, engineering and it broadens their aspect – it’s not just about putting astronauts on Mars, it’s about a whole lot more.”

The centre is based on the Victorian Space and Science Education Centre at Strathmore Secondary College in Melbourne.

Hamilton Secondary College has been the focus for South Australian Space School activities since 1997.

“We’ve already had a lot of success stories of students entering STEM-related careers and that has been because they have been introduced to this type of environment and they’ve got a better understanding of what the occupations are.

“This centre will further accelerate that because now we can start from earlier years and it’s an interactive learning space for students to be able to create, work together, analyse and develop those critical thinking skills.”

The new Mars exhibit provided the backdrop for South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill to today announce the immediate establishment of the South Australian Space Industry Centre, which aims to drive space industry innovation, research and entrepreneurial development.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill (centre), Space and Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith and Education Minister Susan Close at the Hamilton Secondary College Space Centre.

Education Minister Susan Close, who also spoke at the launch, said the Hamilton Secondary College space centre would help students understand from a young age how STEM learning could evolve into space industry careers.

“One of the four attributes of a good education is that it is engaging for students and many young people are fascinated by space,” she said.

“Even more important than engagement is a capacity to understand what future employment looks like. What we want is for young people to be able to see that excelling in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths leads to careers in the new economy.

“We’ve heard how important the space industry is across the world and its increasing importance in Australia and South Australia so we need our young people to be prepared to step up and be part of that industry to gain the benefits of employment and job creation that it affords us.”

The International Astronautical Congress will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre from September 25 to 29. It is expected to attract about 3500 members of the global space industry including the heads of all the major space agencies and Space X founder Elon Musk.

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