On July 31st the United Launch Alliance (ULA) offered 300 metro Denver school kids an up-close, personal experience in what’s like to launch a real rocket. ULA which builds rockets, wanted to provide children a learning environment to help celebrate the landing of the rover on Mars.

The kids, ages 8 – 13, got to find out what goes on when a rocket is sent into space. The kids learned all about the Atlas 5 rocket, (aka Atlas) which was built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) and took over 2 years to build. It launched in November, 2011. Atlas also carries the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover (MSL) that took over 8 years to build.

After learning all about rockets and MSL, it was time to pretend we were mission control at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). The kids had a script to follow and everyone had their own calls signs or acronyms as their job. The launch commander (LC) would say “Standby on command channel for launch countdown status checks.” Next the ALO (Atlas Liquid Oxygen) would say “First stage liquid oxygen at flight level, and topping started” The kids went through the script like clockwork and when completed, the clock time read “T – 10.” Let the final countdown begin 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1.. LIFTOFF!

Sofia Chavez, one of the participants said “learning about rockets and launching them is an experience she’ll never forget.” The excitement built throughout the simulated launch experience, ending with everyone shouting “GO ATLAS, GO CENTAUR, GO MSL,” as they watched a replay of the actual launch back in November. It truly was an exciting opportunity to learn about what ULA goes through when building and launching rockets. I can’t wait to watch what the MSL will bring to us from Mars.

Christine Martin Centennial, Colorado