NASA is on a path to send astronauts to Mars, and a key step in this bold endeavor will occur later this year when the agency's new Orion spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Exploration Flight Test-1. 

The Orion vehicle, which is designed to take American astronauts farther into space than ever before, also will carry with it the names and dreams of America's future scientists, engineers and explorerstoday's students.

Studying space safety

Through an initiative called the Exploration Design Challenge (EDC), NASA and Lockheed Martin have engaged more than 130,000 students from kindergarten through high school to learn more about space radiation and the importance of shielding astronauts from its effects, especially on long missions. The age-appropriate EDC activities explain space radiation and challenge the students to propose innovative ways to mitigate its harmful effects.

High school students were offered the most robust task in the challenge: to design a radiation shield prototype to be tested by NASA engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and then flown to space. That portion of the EDC ended in February 2014. The winning radiation shield submission was from Team ARES at the Governor's School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Virginia. The five young engineers on that team will travel to Florida in December and have the opportunity to see their radiation shield fly to space aboard the Orion spacecraft during its first flight test. A dosimeter on Orion will measure the efficacy of Team ARES' radiation shield design as the spacecraft flies through the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

Mission complete

The opportunity for students to complete the non-engineering EDC activities and be eligible to have their names flown on Orion is quickly approaching. All entries must be submitted by June 30, 2014. This is a rare chance for students to become part of NASA's next chapter in human space exploration.

NASA Education strives to provide meaningful, participatory experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) using the agency's unique missions, programs, assets and expertise.

These STEM-related activities and opportunities for students and teachers are helping build America's pipeline of technical talent and pave the way for the next generation of explorers.