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Posted on: February 26, 2021

Local Teacher's Connection to NASA's 'Mission to Mars'

Last week, NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on Mars after a seven month journey.  The successful landing was watched around the world, and by local residents, in fact, one with ties to the mission.

“Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars,” exclaimed one of NASA’s mission control center members at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Suddenly, the entire team jumped for joy.

Around the world there were millions of people who joined in the NASA celebration, via LIVE Stream, on February 18th, just before 3 p.m. CST., as the Perseverance Mars rover landed on the Red Planet. The virtual crowd included students from Coon Rapids High School.

“Seeing everybody’s reaction to it landing. Everybody cheering and being so excited, I loved that energy,” said junior Rebecca Godfrey.

“It was incredible to see a successful landing,” said 11th grade biology teacher, Kimberly Lykens.

Lykens held a watch party, after school for dozens of her students, both in-person and on-line, on GOOGLE Meets.

“That whole week I was communicating to my students how exciting this moment is going to be and just being able to experience that with them made it so much more special,” Lykens said.

Junior Austin Cooper held his breath as the parachute slowed the rover's descent.

“Watching the parachute deploy, (was a highlight) because that way you know that there’s going to be a safe landing,” said Cooper.

Cooper's classmate, Luis Ortega, wore his one and only official NASA face mask. He joined the watch party from home.

“For me it was actually after, (the landing) and getting to see pictures of Mars from the rover,” Ortega said.

Rebecca added, “When we were talking about the Mars rover she talked about actually working there."

A few years ago, their teacher, Ms. Lykens spent two years as a NASA intern at the mission’s headquarters, where she conducted research related to the rover's mission. She showed a picture of herself standing in front of a working model of the Perseverance rover.

“They call it the Mars yard at JPL, they actually do testing in how the rover, like moves over rocks & stuff,” said Lykens.

The lucky students who showed up to watch the landing live got to celebrate a giant step forward for science.

“Me showing passion for it, I can see that they became passionate for it just by default,” Lykens said. “And I think they really enjoyed having a moment where we could celebrate something positive, this year.”

During its mission on Mars, the Perseverance rover will be collecting soil samples.  Eventually NASA hopes to return those samples back to Earth for testing of bio-signatures, or signs of ancient life.

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