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Heading for Mars – one semester at a time

The new “Mars” series on TV looks like pure fantasy sci-fi – but students right here on campus are already working hard to make such dreams a reality.

By Mark Cox

November 28, 2016

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and gets its red color from iron oxide in the soil. Its average temperature is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and gets its red color from iron oxide in the soil. Its average temperature is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s easy to get lost in the swooping vistas and fiery-colored skylines of “Mars,” which debuted Nov. 14 on the National Geographic Channel.

Half drama and half documentary, the genre-busting show takes a novel approach – mixing an actor-led fictional mission to Mars with real “talking head” boffins (British slang for scientists or engineers), waxing lyrical about how close we are to reaching the red planet.

But really, just how realistic are such ambitions? If you ask the team from MSU Denver’s very own “space-race” program (yes, there is one), you’ll get an emphatic answer: very realistic.

High achievers

The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) group comprises students from the three Auraria Campus universities. And they really know their space stuff.

Last year, for example, they took part in a robotics design challenge that involved putting their creations through their paces in actual sand dunes – to accurately replicate Mars conditions. And MSU Denver alumna Dara Dotz recently had the satisfaction of seeing a zero gravity 3-D printer she helped create make it to the International Space Station – the largest structure humans have ever put into space.

In short, our students bat above their average when it comes to negotiating the final frontier. So it’s no surprise that they are especially attractive to – and regularly secure work placements with – local NASA contractors. That’s because MSU Denver offers space-friendly courses in advanced manufacturing, such as advanced additive processes (3-D printing) and composites engineering.

Bright prospects

It also does no harm that the University has Aaron Brown as associate professor in its Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology. Before arriving here, Aaron helped design the landing mechanism for the globally famous Mars Curiosity Rover, which means he knows a thing or two about the red planet.

Even still, one of Aaron’s greatest satisfactions comes from empowering his students to become the next generation of scientific wunderkinds. He said, “Colorado is one of the biggest players in space exploration and NASA activities – and we acknowledge that through our curriculum. Much of what we do is aimed squarely at training students in the specialist skills they will need to get ahead in this exciting industry.”

The sky’s the limit, they used to say. But for some of MSU Denver students, it looks like that’s only the beginning of the story…

Watch the video trailer for the new “Mars” series.

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