Lunar and Planetary Institute

Lunar Science and Exploration
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Exploration of the Moon and Asteroids by Secondary Students
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the purpose of this program?
A: The purpose of the ExMASS program is to provide a data-rich, national standards-based, authentic, open-inquiry research experience that supports the high school curriculum and enhances skills and proficiency in science. This program also aims to help high school students understand pathways to science careers by giving them the opportunity to connect with scientist mentors. Student research will primarily focus on the Moon. However, asteroid studies may also be incorporated.

Q: Who manages the ExMASS program?
A: ExMASS is managed by education staff at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. LPI and NASA’s Johnson Space Center lead the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration (CLSE), one of nine NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institutes (SSERVI). For more information about CLSE please visit the CLSE homepage. For more information about SSERVI, please visit
Q: What’s involved in this research experience?
A: The project is a team effort, including the team of students, the science teacher, and a practicing scientist.

Students conduct authentic, open inquiry research that supports the goals of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). Students spend the first six weeks engaged in a guided inquiry activity, Moon/Asteroid 101, in which they read papers to learn about lunar or asteroid science. Topics include the Moon’s formation, evolution, and geology, and evolution and geology of asteroids. Students explore data sets from lunar spacecraft missions and asteroid missions. At the end of the first six weeks, students use their new found knowledge to characterize the geology of a region of the lunar surface or an asteroid.

Guided by a scientist mentor, the remainder of the experience is dedicated to researching a lunar or asteroid topic decided upon by students and their mentor. At the conclusion of their research, students create a conference-style poster that is reviewed by a panel of judges. The panel of judges scores each poster. The top four teams present their research to the panel of judges, and answer questions from the judges, via videoconferencing software. Based on these presentations, the judges select one team to present their poster, in person, at the Exploration Science Forum held at NASA Ames in July. The remaining three teams’ posters will also be put on display at the Exploration Science Forum. At the Forum, students not only present their poster but also have the opportunity to meet with scientists, take a guided tour of NASA Ames facilities, and visit a local science center.

Q: Will the winning team be responsible for travel expenses associated with traveling to the Exploration Science Forum?
A: No! The travel expenses for the winning team, including flight (and baggage fees if applicable), hotel, and meals will be covered by CLSE. Teams will only be responsible for extra items such as souvenirs. PLEASE NOTE: Travel funding to the Exploration Science Forum is available for a maximum of six (6) team members, e.g., one (1) teacher and five (5) students. One teacher MUST accompany the students.

Q: Is there a registration fee to attend the Exploration Science Forum?
A: There is no fee to attend the Exploration Science Forum, however anyone who will attend must register.

Q: How many days will the winning team be at the Exploration Science Forum?
A: The winning team will spend two days and three nights at the Exploration Science Forum (plus two days for travel).

Q: Can other teams attend the Exploration Science Forum, even if they do not win the competition?
A: Absolutely! The Exploration Science Forum is open to anyone who wants to attend. However, CLSE only has funds to support the team that wins the ExMASS competition.

Q: What content will my students learn about while doing one of these projects?
A: Students will learn about the current understanding of the Moon’s formation and evolution. Students may also learn about the current state of knowledge of asteroids. More importantly, students actively participate in the process of science, applying science skills to propose solutions to authentic research questions.

Q: How will participation benefit my students academically?
A: The Exploration of the Moon and Asteroids by Secondary Students immerses students in the process of science from beginning to end. Students will ask their own questions, create hypotheses, collect data, analyze data to test their hypotheses, and draw conclusions from their analyses. By the end of the research experience, students will have a deeper understanding of the scientific process.

Q: Does student research have to be original?
A: No. Conducting original research is not a requirement of the ExMASS program. Students can still experience the process of science in a deep and meaningful way without having to worry if their research has been done before.

Q: Are there examples of past student work available for viewing?
A: Yes. Links to past student posters and recordings of past presentations can be found in the archive.

Q: Who can participate?
A: This program is designed for high school students and their science teachers. It helps if the students have taken an Earth-Space Science course, but it is not required.

Q: Why is NASA interested in high school students?
A: Students are the future! One of the key components of the NASA Solar System Research Virtual Institute is to inspire and train the next generation of scientists. Why not start at the high school level?

Q: I don’t live near LPI or any of the NASA centers. Can I still participate?
A: YES! Meeting with mentors and/or LPI does not have to be face-to-face. Communication is done online through email and free videoconferencing or through good old fashioned phone calls.

Q: I don’t live near LPI or any NASA center. How do we communicate with our mentor and/or LPI?
A: Communication with mentors or LPI can be done via email or through a free videoconferencing software called Adobe Connect. (Teams will NOT need to download this software.) More information on Adobe Connect will be given before the start of the program.

Q: Will I be responsible for locating a mentor?
A: No. LPI will locate mentors and pair each school with a mentor.

Q: How many students can participate?
A: We recommend each team consist of 4 – 5 students with one (1) or two (2) teachers.

Q: Will the students’ research results be used by scientists?
A: It is possible that students’ research may be used, or referenced by, other scientists. Though the point of the program is not for students to conduct original research, past student research has been published in a professional research journal.

Q: How much does it cost to participate?
A: There is no fee to participate in this program.

Q: How much of a time commitment does participation in this program require?
A: Evaluation data reveal that time commitment varies between groups. We recommend that teams be prepared to spend at least 5 hours per week on their research.

Q: How long will the research experience take?
A: Participation in the ExMASS program will last an entire academic year.

Q: What kind of equipment is necessary to participate?
A: Each team will need at least one computer with Internet access, a webcam, and a microphone (that can be plugged into the computer). Basic office software such as Word and PowerPoint will be necessary. Any other software that may be required will be made available by LPI. The webcam and microphone are for needed for use during videoconferencing. The videoconferencing software we use is called Adobe Connect. This software DOES NOT need to be downloaded to your computer.

Q: How do I get my school involved?
A: Interested teachers will need to complete an online application. Any questions should be directed to Andy Shaner at 281-486-2163 or