Australian educators and scientists return from Spaceward Bound Nambia

Australian Educators and Scientists Return from Spaceward Bound Nambia

West Australian science teacher Mark Gargano, Janine Slocombe, Sustainability and Environmental Systems Coordinator from the University of South Australia and researcher, Dr Mark Stevens from the South Australian Museum, have recently returned from Nambia where they participated in a NASA Spaceward Bound expedition. This is Mark’s third Spaceward Bound expedition, with previous expeditions to the Mojave Desert in California and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. As more Australian teachers and scientists participate in Spaceward Bound expeditions, a skilled network is being established to develop education resources that engage students in meaningful, enquiry-based learning.

“Spaceward Bound is all about science teachers joining planetary scientists as they do field research and then bringing the excitement of their work back into the classroom” says Mr Gargano. In Namibia, Mark and Janine worked with teachers from the United States, South Africa and the host country, as well as an international crew of planetary scientists.

The location of this expedition was Gobabeb Training & Research Centre approximately 100 km east from the Namibian Coast. A fantastic remote desert location, characterized by desert fogs and barchan dunes. The Centre is a joint venture between the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) and the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), with a large array of ongoing desert studies being conducted there. The Science Team was lead once again by Dr Chris McKay from the NASA Ames Research Center and at a local level by Professor Donald Cowan and his team from the University of the Western Cape, in South Africa, bringing together a diverse field team of some 30 individuals.

Many desert surveys were conducted and much discussion held about the type of rock that will permit hypolith growth, the type of cyanobacteria and the level of colonization that occurs at various parts of the Namib Desert, and the links between rainfall and desert fogs, for which the area is well-renown for. On a science education front, this Spaceward Bound provided an opportunity for the teacher team to generate and deploy their own hypolith growth experiment. Under the guidance of Michael Wing, from Sir Francis Drake High School in California, a set of crystal plates were placed in a specific location in the desert where local mid and long-term monitoring will occur. The plates offered a range of levels of optical translucence, giving rise to potential data of growth vs. light, but also sterile plates and cultured plates were field located, which means will we see a difference in colonization when some cyanobacteria have already been given a head start?

Michael is aiming at obtaining data from around the world, including a couple of suitable Mars analog locations in Australia. For the students (and teachers) understanding cyanobacteria, is important for understanding how life started here, but also how life could have started elsewhere, perhaps on Mars.

Mark has developed a range of enhanced science programmes linking to study areas within Spaceward Bound that have provided further scope and depth to the existing curriculum where students have access to the latest in space science research and development and conduct authentic research themselves. A feature is the practical work, investigations and projects, including a range of excursions and a student Spaceward Bound following the format that has been created for the NASA Spaceward Bounds. For more information about Spaceward Bound visit