140 Students. Visions of Mars. A Legacy.
Oct. 31, 2006, two months into the school year, The Planetary Society issued a press release to people around the globe to fly their names to Mars via the Phoenix Mars Lander. With a mission to promote space exploration, The Planetary Society afforded their members and beyond the opportunity to be a part of the first library on Mars. The nonprofit organization encouraged members to relay the opportunity to family, friends, coworkers and more.
Willie Robinson, a lifelong Planetary Society member, was inspired by the former Executive Director and Co-founder of The Planetary Society, Dr. Louis Friedman, to engage his family, friends and community.
Mr. Robinson began informing those in his community about the upcoming Martian mission and the chance to fly their names aboard. His daughter, Victoria, a then second grader at Washington Elementary School in the Borough of Roselle, New Jersey, was also inspired to share the mission with her friends.
Mr. Robinson knew that this opportunity was too grand for other young people to miss out on. As a Planetary Society member and an active parent, he went to Washington Elementary School and met with Principal Dr. Dana Walker to share how beneficial and motivating participating in the mission could be for the young students. Mr. Robinson envisioned how empowered the young students would be to see the accomplishments of the Phoenix Mars Lander, which carried their names. He believed that through the students involvement in the mission that their interests in science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, design and space would grow. Through the Phoenix, the students could have the opportunity to monitor its success and feel elated to know that their names were a part of the mission.
With the help of Dr. Walker and her staff, the names of 140 students were submitted aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander mission via The Planetary Society’s website. Each student received a certificate confirming their participation in the mission. The submission of the Phoenix Kids’ names received high acclaim from those who worked with the mission. Accolades included a letter from Dr. Bruce Betts, a Chief Scientist and Planetary Society Program Manager. The Principal Investigator of the Phoenix Mars Lander, Dr. Peter Smith of The University of Arizona, congratulated the Phoenix Kids. The University of Arizona later featured the Phoenix Kids on their website.
The Phoenix Mars Lander’s touchdown on Mars on May 25, 2008, sparked an annual celebration for the students of Roselle. As a result of the Phoenix Kids, other students who did not have the opportunity to participate could join in the celebrations which were geared towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The celebration of the Phoenix Mars Lander’s anniversary grew more and more annually. The greatest celebration occurred in 2011 under the name of “NASA Day.” The Phoenix Kids were celebrating the Phoenix Mars Lander’s third year on Mars. A committee called Champions for Our Youth formed together to make the celebration come to life. Champions for Our Youth consisted of members Willie Robinson, Adriana Robinson, Victoria Robinson, Ms. Marva Goins and Mr. Van Frazier.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011, NASA Day had commenced with aviators, robotic professors, scientists, historians and NASA representative Dr. Fatima Senghore, pouring into the young minds of the seventh and eighth grade students. NASA and The Planetary Society had donated mission patches, books, posters and a series of other collectible items for the students. Astronaut Leland Melvin sent a virtual message to the students. Bill Nye, the current CEO of The Planetary Society wrote a letter to the students.
NASA Day also included presentations on mathematics, engineering, geology, aviation, aeronautics, robotics, scientific journalism, meteorology and more. Activities consisted of Microsoft Flight Simulator (which turned out to be one of the most desired activities from the students), airplane races, robot contests, science fiction writing challenges, uncovering the development of the Phoenix Mars Lander and more.
Through the Phoenix mission, Mr. Robinson and his team were able to mentor to hundreds of students and expose them to the wide-ranging careers in STEM. By bringing scientists, engineers, aviators and beyond to mentor to the youth, many found that their minds were broaden to consider career opportunities which they had never considered before.
Today, the Phoenix Kids have graduated from High School and are exploring various careers paths. Because of programs such as “NASA Day” and the Phoenix mission, several of the Phoenix Kids are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.