STEM students learn from NASA engineer

By Kevin boozer kboozer@civitasmedia.com

February 9, 2014

WINNSBORO — Fairfield Central Robotics Club 5327 students and middle school students in the STEM early college academy explored Mars recently when NASA Engineer Kobie Boykins gave a presentation on the Mars rovers.

A Benedict College transportation engineering group, the FCHS Beta Club, FCHS ROTC and FCHS academic challenge teams also attended. Boykins used video clips, humor, PowerPoint slides and props like pieces of spacecraft to keep the students engaged.

From solar arrays to airbags deployed as the Mars rovers landed, Boykins provided real world applications to the robotics enrichment activities the FCHS students participate in.

The rover mission searched for water on Mars or for evidence of water on Mars. Boykins told the students how Mars has one-third the gravity of Earth and a wide temperature variance.

If someone were standing on the planet’s surface, the warmest area would be 72 degrees at his or her feet, with the temperature being zero degrees Celsius at the knees and -120 degrees at the person’s head.

Those dynamics posed challenges for the mission but the engineer explained more that aeronautical engineering. He also gave an inside perspective on the ways team work enabled the NASA mission to overcome adversity and lead to success. Boykins explained how even NASA failures have lead to successes. Therefore, for the students in life, Boykins said failure is not always the worst option.

His team found ways to use Kevlar to strengthen parachutes to enable a safer landing during the Mars exploration. Boykins said a team of around 10,000 people cooperated internationally to make the Mars mission a success.

The Mars science lab rover was about the size of a Mini Cooper.

“Sometimes failure is not the worst thing. The most important thing is to pick yourself back up again,” he said.

In the 1970s an antenna did not fully open as the Gallileo spacecraft orbited Jupiter. NASA engineers developed new technology to retrieve images, technology that became the JPEG, GIF, PNG and TIFF files of today.

He also shared how early in his academic career as he studied mechanical engineering how a mentor professor made clear to the best and the brightest that they needed to learn to draw upon a life’s worth of knowledge and apply that knowledge to real world problems if they were to be successful in life.

As part of his work with NASA, Boykins travels the country giving speeches such as this one.

Fairfield County School District Superintendent J.R. Green said the dynamic presentation is just the start of the kind of transformative programming the district’s STEM initiatives will bring to Fairfield County Students and he praised the work of the team of teachers who helped put the event together.