Lunar exploration is the subject of the STEM education program

A nonprofit group is seeking San Antonio students to participate in a free three-year program starting this fall to design and build devices to explore lunar caves.

The Lunar Analog Caves Test Sites program, called LCATS, is based on the 2009 discovery of underground craters on the moon – 500-foot-wide openings in the lunar surface – and allows students to explore the science behind the possibilities of their use as shelters for humans Habitat.

An Introduction to Space Exploration – Center for Planetary Sciences

The Foundation weeks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting STEM education in space, is working with local school districts to better reach economically disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students. Funding from NASA, the WEX Foundation, LiftFund, Astroport Space Technologies and private donors covers tuition and fees. For the upcoming school year, the majority of program costs will be covered by a $110,000 donation from the Kelley Heritage Foundation.

The nonprofit needs 30 middle and high school students to participate in the program for the 2023-2024 school year. The group camp begins September 16 in Port San Antonio and runs Saturdays throughout the school year from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., depending on school trips. LCATS organizers said a student must make a three-year commitment, and most do.

The program only runs the entire academic year and ends in the summer. The STEM Space Program creates a pathway to higher education for students who otherwise would not have access to such programs due to racial or gender discrimination, said Louise Cantwell, executive director of the WEX Foundation.

Completion date for to register It’s August 25th.

“LCATS is typically a student’s first introduction to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or space science,” said Katherine Polich, logistics director at the WEX Foundation.

“What we’re really trying to do is not only introduce them to space science, but also develop a passion that they may already have for themselves,” Polich said. “Aerospace engineering or mechanical engineering, even programs like architecture or music, we can integrate them into the LCATS curriculum and show students that their passion applies not only to Earth but also to space.” »

Students joining the program will work on the real-world challenges NASA brings to Astroport. Working with engineering specialists, LCATS students created a simulation of lunar regolith, a material that mimics dirt on the lunar surface.

Regolith is used to work on projects with Astroport interns, such as Brick Bot, a robot that LCATS students are working on. The robot is a prototype with an induction heater that flies to the moon, picks up moon clay, feeds it to the induction heater, melts it and prints bricks to be developed on the moon. The Brick Bot is just a working model; The project then moves into phases two and three using NASA models and robotics.

The LCATS program began in 2016 with a $1.2 million grant from NASA. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, WEX graduated three cohorts of LCATS students.

LCATS graduate Frank Lucci said the program teaches students to think like an engineer.

“We learned a lot about the moon, volcanoes and cave systems that once contained lava,” he said.

Last year, Lucchi’s team was able to build a 3D prototype of NASA’s RASSOR robot, an excavator that digs and empties the ground.

In the first year, LCATS students learn about sensor functions such as measuring heat, distance and light. In their senior year, students simulate a lunar mission in a local cave. In recent years, students have worked in Robber Baron Cave and the caves at Kickapoo Cavern State Park.

In the second year, students learn about robotics, the challenges of living in lunar lava tubes, the dangers of regolith, and current issues facing NASA.

“Our students learn a lot about lunar lava tubes in this program,” Polich said. “You will learn what it takes to live and live on the moon, but also how to get there and how to work with astronauts and science to research materials like lunar regolith.” »

Lucci, a high school student at BASIS Shavano, a charter school in north San Antonio, tested a prototype Tuesday at the Astroport Space Tech lab across from the San Antonio Harbor. He actually wanted to study aerospace engineering and said the program encouraged that.

“Aerospace is extremely important to the survival of humanity,” Lucci said. “At some point we have to expand. That’s what we do as humans. This is the future because we cannot simply survive on this planet. Our technology will evolve, what we know will evolve. And to ensure our survival, we can expand this to other planets.

The Area 21 exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology features a hanging 3D printer created and designed by LCATS students, UTSA students and Astroport engineers.

The camp is free for its students, but the school spends about $500 per semester for 30 students. Students from all Bexar County school districts in grades 8-10 are invited to apply.

Siddhi Raut attended the LCATS camp starting in eighth grade and said two Saturdays a month helped turn her dream into something more tangible and helped her get an internship at NASA last summer.

“As soon as one session is over, I immediately look forward to the next one,” she said of the LCATS program. “We have a lot of questions about the universe that we still need to answer, and I would like to be a part of that. I think without LCATS my dream would have completely collapsed into something else.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly reflect that students in grades 8-10 are encouraged to apply for the LCATS program.

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