Have you visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly yet this summer? It’s worth a visit and while there you should definitely participate in the new interactive, hands-on TechQuest: Astronaut Academy.
Smithsonian TechQuest: Astronaut Academy is a new, FREE program geared towards 10-14 year olds to learn what it takes to be an astronaut-in-training for a future trip to Mars. Participants use their web-based device to follow directions to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math skills) based activities throughout the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar area of the museum.
We were very excited to participate in Astronaut Academy and headed to the Claude Moore Education Center Classroom 1 on the lower level for our Orientation. We were greeted by a TechQuest Astronaut Academy Training Specialist who gave us a briefing on the program, had us watch an introduction video and got us set up on our web-based device before heading out into the museum to start our adventure.
Part of the introduction included having us select what crew member we wanted to be. There are 6 choices, Mission Commander, Pilot, Flight Engineer, Medical Officer, Planetary Geologist, and Mission Specialist. What crew member you choose sends you on a special path to learn the skills needed to do your job.
We chose to be a Pilot. We clicked on the web-based program to learn that we would be guided through 4 training stations; each designed to give crew members the skills and experience needed for our trip to Mars. Each of the 4 stations had 1 main training activity, hosted by a TechQuest worker, and 3 additional self-guided, hands-on training activities. The 4 stations were Mars, Space Travel, Your Body In Space and Working In Space.
We worked our way to each station, which were a little hard to find in such a big, busy museum. We met with the TechQuest Astronaut Academy Training Specialist to learn about the station and listen to their interactive presentation. After their presentation, there were 3 more hands-on activities to participate in and complete the challenge on our own. After we completed each activity we took a picture with the TechQuest web-based program and saved it to our device.
All the challenges were well designed, fun, educational and suitable for the station theme. The TechQuest Astronaut Academy Training Specialists were all very friendly, well spoken, very knowledgeable teenagers. After we completed all 4 main station activities and 3 extra activities (which took about 90 minutes on a busy Saturday) it was time to return back to the Claude Moore Education Center Classroom 1 hallway for graduation!
At the graduation area, we were greeted by a TechQuest: Astronaut Academy Training Specialist who congratulated us and had us watch a short conclusion video. Then we were given a medal for completing our training. We took pictures at the red planet backdrop with our medals on and headed on our way talking about the fun we had and discussions of coming back and being a different crew member next time so we can participate in the other hands-on activities we didn’t get to do today.
We highly recommend you finish your astronaut training day with the IMAX 3D movie “Journey to Space” which focuses on humans traveling to Mars in 2030. It’s a great way to end your Mars, space travel day!
Things To Know Before You Go
- The Astronaut Academy program is offered every Saturday (unless a different family day program is occuring) plus every 2nd Friday of each month. Visit their website for the most up-to-date information.
- Admission is free to the museum. Parking is $15. After 4 p.m. parking is free.
- Allow 90 minutes to complete the program from beginning to end so you don’t feel rushed and to allow time to participate in other hands-on activities along the way.
- Don’t forget to bring your own phones or devices equipped with an internet browser and a camera.
- Enjoy the well designed program. We learned a lot and had fun along the way!
Photos by Mara Conners.