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NASA Science, Technology and Exploration Program

NASA Ames Research Center, STEP

Project Co-Leaders:
Drs. Oana Marcu, Alfonso Davila, Jhony Zavaleta, Nathan Bramall, Brad Bebout and Richard Quinn of NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute.

Project Senior Scientist Advisor:
Dr. Chris McKay of NASA Ames.

The NASA Science, Technology and Exploration Program (NASA STEP) is a two-week training program in Astrobiology, focusing on informal education and hands-on activities in science research and space technology. The program is offered to high school students and their teachers, has begun in the summer of 2009 and will continue through 2011.
Astrobiology is the perfect tool to bring together all aspects of space exploration: it is a multidisciplinary field requiring broad understanding of the underlying scientific disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, geology). Astrobiology exploration on Earth and beyond, often in extreme environments, also involves robotics, advanced technology and state-of-the-art instrumentation.
Designed around a mission-building concept, NASA STEP consists of a series of science and engineering discovery discussions, hands-on exploration activities and local and virtual field trips with the background theme of participating in a robotic mission to Mars to search for traces of life.
The program offers direct interaction with scientists and engineers through access to on-going investigations and mission planning at NASA Ames Research Center and associated fieldwork. It exercises collaborative and team-building skills among all participants - students, teachers and practicing scientists.

Program Details (2010 program)
The current program supports twenty-four students and six teachers from six local high schools (teams of 4 students and 1 teacher). Every day NASA STEP attendees participate in short, guided Science Discovery Lectures related to life sciences, biophysics, planetary sciences and space exploration. Engineering Discovery Lectures will provide students with a broad overview of the many aspects of space technology, including satellites, spacecrafts, mission planning, robotics, instrumentation, etc.
The activities at NASA Ames are complemented by a weekend-long field trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, designed to directly involve the students in the research and engineering in extreme environments used as analogs to planetary conditions. The field experience is a key part of the program, following and exemplifying the exploratory activities in the laboratory.
The engineering component includes robotics and programming workshops followed by a student robotics challenge, and a rocketry workshop concluded with a student rocket launch along LUNAR at NASA Ames.

Samples of the 2010 program can be found at the links below.

  • Daily Schedule and topics (click here).
  • A list of the 2010 course organizers and contributors (click here).
  • Video highlights of the program (click here).

Program Goals
A primary goal of NASA STEP is to exploit NASA’s unique position to provide a top-notch training program and thereby engage and motivate young students to choose science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-oriented careers. Along with the students, the teachers receive professional training directly from scientists and engineers involved in research and mission design. The participants become NASA ambassadors for public awareness and support for space activities and exploration.

Applying for the Program
Application for NASA STEP has two stages. Teachers interested in attending STEP apply first (click here for teacher application). Selected applicants are notified by March 1 and are responsible for selecting a team of four students. Online applications must be submitted by each student (click here for application) and require the endorsement of the coordinating teacher. For additional details regarding the forms or the application process please contact

The middle school component of STEP is a 3-day hands-on astrobiology program that includes building microbial mats, and designing and building rovers to detect life. A half-day field trip to salt ponds nearby is led by Dr. Brad Bebout of NASA Ames to introduce the participants to the search for life elsewhere.

2010 was the first year of the middle school pilot program, taught by NASA staff at the NASA Ames Research Center from June 27-30th.

We are accepting teams of four middle school students and one science teacher per school from 5 schools.


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