The inaugural Ad Astra Academy took place in Brazil's City of God, in partnership with the Instituto Presbiteriano Álvaro Reis (INPAR). The first week of the curriculum introduced the scientific method and focused on issues of habitability, ecosystem conservation, astrobiology, and solar system science. A field trip to a local island provided an opportunity for self-directed exploration and real-world understanding of classroom principles. Armed with an understanding of habitability and martian geology, students conducted a live video-conference with HiRISE mission control, recommending specific, scientifically-valuable sites on the surface of Mars for imaging.
Due to the complexity and high scientific demand associated with the HiRISE camera, image acquisition took several months. During this time, the Brazil Team visited INPAR to offer weekly classes related to space science. When the International Team returned for the second week of instruction, the Mars images were unveiled, and the students analyzed the new data from the Red Planet that they had helped generate. A field trip to the local forest demonstrated the challenges of orbit-based reconnaissance and revealed the stunning biological and geological diversity surrounding the City of God. Throughout the project, small group work and personalized instruction was emphasized, allowing students to gain hands-on empirical experience, follow their interests, and voice concerns and ambitions regarding their own academic futures.
Scientific results from the student-acquired images are available on the Science page, and data on the Ad Astra Academy's educational impact can be found on the Educational Philosophy page. See below for a video introduction to the project.