Category Archives: Pathways to Space

A new frontier in astrobiology education and research?

Grant: $987,573 (2010-2013), in-kind $2,154,034, Australian Space Research Program, Australian Government

In 2010 I led a consortium of four partners to win grant from the Australian Space Research Program for an education and research project at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney – Australia’s largest science museum.

The key objectives of Pathways to Space was to create a Mars Yard with rovers to engage high school students in science, and ultimately to consider space related courses at university that would lead to space-related careers. The thrust was that a future workforce to support Australian presence in space was likely still at high school – and in Australia where students can end their science classes at age 16, there has been a decline in senior science enrolments for three decades.

Around 1,600 students went through the Pathways to Space program, with 26% of those with matching pre and post surveys saying they were now interested in space related courses and careers as a result of participation. Students coming into the program already interested in space were excluded from the data.

The partners in Pathways to Space, which ended in June, 2013, were the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (University of New South Wales and lead partner), the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (University of Sydney), the Powerhouse Museum, and Cisco Australia.

High school student science education was at the heart of this project, but in the process two doctorates are nearing completion (University of Sydney) and one doctorate has been completed with the award to Dr Jennifer Fergusson on Dec 18, 2013 (University of New South Wales). Four Masters have also been completed and some 68 undergraduate interactions and research projects were also completed on the Mars Yard.

The key resource created by Pathways to Space – the 140 square metre Mars Yard and robotics lab – was established at the Powerhouse with this funding. It laid the basis for sustainability both as an ongoing living public exhibit in the Powerhouse Museum and an ongoing space robotics lab as a research space for the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. The facility is now the basis of a new project to open the Mars Yards to schools around Australia, the NBN Mars Lab (see post).

The final report on Pathways to Space is here.

The team was:

Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales: Dr Carol Oliver (Project Manager); Dr Jennifer Fergusson (Evaluation research officer); Greg Sawyer (IT adviser); Prof Malcolm Walter (science advisor)

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney: Matthew Connell (Powerhouse Lead), Dan Collins (Information Communication Technologies), Peter Mahony (Thinkspace Manager), James Oliver (Education technology developer and teacher), Kerrie Dougherty (project adviser).

Australian Centre for Field Robotics, University of Sydney: Prof Salah Sukkarieh (ACFR Lead), Dr Ali Haydar Goktogan, Esa Attia, Dr Thierry Peynot, Dr Robert Finch.

Cisco: Michael O’Brien, Jan Zanetis, Andrea West

Advisory Board: Brett Biddington (UNSW representative and chair); Anthony Rogers (Powerhouse representative); Hugh Durrant-Whyte (ACFR representative); Peter Elford (Cisco representative).