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Sutton High to see first students apply AI to MND NASA mission data

11 June 2021

Sutton High School computer science students will be the first to apply AI machine learning algorithms to MND NASA mission data, during a multi-faceted space tech programme offered following cancellation of the 2021 GCSE examinations.

Nicknamed ‘Space Tech Fortnight’, plans for the programme began when the GCSE students signed up for NASA’s STEM Digital Badges programme, hosted by the NASA Educator Professional Development Collaborative (EPDC) in partnership with Texas State University. Following the February landing of the Mars Perseverance Rover, NASA EPDC novice Ms Nicola Buttigieg, Head of Computer Science at Sutton High School, had tailored a series of Python programming exercises to be taught in parallel with units from the digital badging curriculum, which offered perfect background insight toward up-to-date and topical, space technology-based problem-solving environments. Delivered concurrently with aspects of the students’ existing OCR GCSE Computer Science curriculum, Ms Buttigieg had equally developed the program in response to rapidly growing career prospects in the area of space tech, inspired by Elon Musk’s Space X and more imminently, the 2021 launch of the NASA–ESA–CSA James Webb Space Telescope to replace the famous Hubble. Michelle Berry, NASA STEM Education Specialist and administrator of the NASA Digital Badges program, encouraged Ms Buttigieg to involve asynchronous STEM learning for her students with a view to badge certification, whilst they could also experience exciting work NASA is doing as well as be provided with good preparation for pursuing future academic programs and career exploration in the space tech industry.

A few months on, Ms Buttigieg’s initiative at the greater-London based GDST school has expanded to include beginner A-level classes, supported by further contributions from Dr Alistair Glasse, James Webb Space Telescope MIRI Instrument Scientist at the Royal Observatory’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre, as well as Gregory Dubos, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory systems engineer currently serving as Mars 2020 Perseverance Surface Operations Systems Chair, and more prominently, Ms Elizabeth Joyner, Senior Education Specialist, and Dr Bradley Hegyi, Earth System Data Advisor at My NASA Data (MND), NASA Langley Research Center.

Whilst the impact of Dr Glasse has students studying simulated MIRI image visualisations and reassembling integer values inspired by 16-bit galaxy light-intensity pixel readings, the impact of Dr Dubos has them considering accessibility of BBC microbit sensors to simulate the concept of Mars Perseverance Rover’s MOXIE instrument generating oxygen on the red planet. As the next generation of explorers of the universe, Dr Dubos enforced to the students that everything they study and work on will prepare them to venture into space and preserve our planet, with no challenge unable to be faced when armed with newest available telemetry insights from Perseverance and its Mars flight-powered sibling, Ingenuity.

Exploring infrared telescope image arrays capable of revealing planetary magnetospheres, such as those of Jupiter and its moon IO scheduled for JWST investigation in June 2022, and the use of FPGA style logic gates within rover-instrument system sensor automation, are only two featured experiences for the computer science students. Their opportunity to query and download quantitative NASA mission data files from MND’s student-tailored Earth System Data Explorer tool will serve their additional efforts to purpose-design investigative beginner AI machine learning algorithms in Python. Following up on the department's inference-drawing machine learning activities, Jessica Taylor, Education and Public Outreach Lead for NASA Langley Research Center’s Science Directorate, expressed in addition that the work these students are doing to analyse and predict planetary effects using MND data will also assist them to better understand our Earth and build the skills needed to become data literate citizens of our world.

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