Twenty-five Bronx students reached for the stars and made it to Mars.
Students in Alejandro Mundo’s 2019 astronomy class at Kingsbridge International HS were carried to the Red Planet in spirit if not in the flesh aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Feb. 18. Perseverance carried 25 chips, officially inscribed with the names of Mundo’s students.
In a class project two years ago about the exploration of Mars and life beyond planet Earth, the students visited the New York City Center for Aerospace and Applied Mathematics in Manhattan. They learned what it was like to live on NASA’s replica of the International Space Station and to train as astronauts aboard a spacecraft, and they went on a simulated space mission. The students presented their research and the rover models they built to earn their places aboard the Perseverance.
Preparing for that honor motivates them now as they pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“That experience has opened my curiosity and given me the push to pursue mechanical engineering,” said Jorge Fernandez, a freshman at New York City College of Technology. “Who knows what I can do next? Maybe I can build a plane or a rocket.”
In addition to teaching at Kingsbridge, Mundo is an associate researcher at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, where he works on environmental sustainability and climate change issues and develops unit plans for other science teachers. That connection helped his students win places aboard the Perseverance.
“These out-of-the-world experiences serve to inspire and push our underrepresented students to consider careers in the science and math fields,” Mundo said. “I know my students can do anything, and I help them believe that, too.”
He created a club to nurture his students’ interest in science. They go outside the classroom to plant trees, clean parks and get involved in community engagement events in order to demonstrate leadership and citizenship and foster responsibility for a better world.
Ronald Sanchez Ramos, whose name adorns one of the 25 chips, is now a science major at Lehman College of the City University of New York. “I feel flattered and lucky that my name and legacy have reached outside this planet,” he said.
Decades from now, these students will be able to show their grandchildren their “tickets to Mars” — personalized boarding passes that guaranteed their place on Perseverance and in space exploration history.