ASU-led NASA Psyche Mission to offer free online courses to learn about space exploration

April 18, 2019

The NASA Psyche Mission is a journey to a unique metal world called Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. The mission is currently in development and the spacecraft will launch in 2022. 

While instruments and components of the spacecraft are being designed and built across the country, the Psyche Mission management team, led by Arizona State University, is launching a series of free online courses called the NASA Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit, based on the real-world challenges and skills associated with the Psyche mission’s science, engineering, technology, and teamwork. Artist's rendition of a space mission control room, part of the materials included in the NASA Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit. Image courtesy ASU EdPlus Download Full Image

“Our purpose in space exploration is to inspire and connect with all of humankind,” said Psyche mission principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “The Psyche Mission Innovation Toolkit allows anyone in the world with internet access to learn the process, the words and the ideas behind a mission. We want to inspire everyone to imagine and plan how they are designing and running their own mission, whether it's to space, or a way to improve their community or drive their own vision."

The first course offering, "The Process and Lifetime of a Space Mission," gives students the opportunity to follow the creation of a NASA robotic space mission, from preparation and submission of a proposal, to team-building, design, construction, modeling, testing, launching, tracking and data collection and analysis.

“A space mission encompasses so much more than reaching a destination and sending back discoveries,” said Psyche mission co-investigator Cassie Bowman, who leads the mission’s online course program. “This first course being offered by the Psyche mission gives students the opportunity to learn about, and practice, elements of the process and lifetime of a space mission, from idea to flight.”

The course is divided into five modules that take approximately one hour to complete. During the course, enrolled learners can create their own online portfolio — called an "ePortfolio" — of their work and reflections. Participants who complete the course receive a downloadable and printable certificate of completion.

"The Process and Lifetime of a Space Mission" course is available to anyone online for free on ASU’s Continuing and Professional Education website. The only prerequisite is an interest in space exploration and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning and conducting a space mission. It is also recommended that participants have a persistent internet connection and the ability to read, write, and understand English or use a language translation program.

The Psyche mission team has plans to offer several more courses over the life of the mission and is currently working on a second course on this same platform, titled "The Inclusive Mindset: Tools for Building Positive Team Culture." The course is being developed in collaboration with Mansour Javidan, the Garvin Distinguished Professor of Management at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute.

This second course, which will be available later this year, will help learners understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing diverse teams; and to develop a set of skills to become more successful as leaders and team members.

“Every endeavor is a human endeavor and going to space is truly about the team,” Elkins-Tanton said. “So, for a successful mission, we want to build the very best teams and we are so fortunate to have one of the world's experts on teams, Mansour Javidan, help us design and build this course."

The Psyche mission

Psyche, an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is made almost entirely of nickel-iron metal. As such, it offers a unique look into the violent collisions that created Earth and the terrestrial planets.

The Psyche spacecraft is planned to launch in August 2022 and travel to the asteroid using solar-electric (low thrust) propulsion. After flying by Mars in 2023 for a gravity assist, the spacecraft will arrive at Psyche in 2026 and spend 21 months orbiting the asteroid, mapping it and studying its properties.

The scientific goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to the Earth's core, and what its surface is like.

The spacecraft's instrument payload will include a magnetometer, a multispectral imager, and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. The mission will also test a sophisticated new laser communications technology, called Deep Space Optical Communications.

The Psyche Mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program. Psyche Principal Investigator, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, is the director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Other ASU researchers on the Psyche mission team include Jim Bell (deputy principal investigator and co-investigator), David Williams (co-investigator), and Catherine Bowman (co-investigator and student collaborations lead).

The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Maxar Space Solutions, formerly Space Systems Loral, is providing a high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


A proud Sun Devil ready to launch into a scientific career

April 18, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

As an Arizona native, Alexa Drew had always planned on attending Arizona State University, but it wasn’t until her time at Mesa Community College that she realized that her interests were specifically geared towards both astronomy and biology; and that ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration had the bachelor’s degree she was looking for. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in earth and space exploration with a concentration in astrobiology, in addition to minors in political science and biology. ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration graduating senior, Alexa Drew. Download Full Image

When asked about her time at ASU and the School of Earth and Space Exploration, she says that these have been some of the best experiences of her life.

“There is always so much going on at ASU, especially regarding research, that I think there is a niche for just about everyone, no matter their interests,” she said.

Drew also appreciates the diversity on campus and how that creates an empowering atmosphere where different ideas and backgrounds can come together to create something great.

“Innovation and creativity are always front and center at ASU, and almost every instructor or mentor I’ve had there has worked to foster those talents,” she said.

In addition to her coursework, Drew was selected as an ASU NASA Space Grant intern, where she worked alongside a faculty mentor on NASA-related research.

“The skills I have learned through this experience will be with me for the rest of my scientific career,” she said. “This has helped prepare me for graduate school, as have the many useful networking opportunities the grant sets up for students.”

Recently, Drew was hired to assist with office duties for the NASA Space Grant Program. She plans to start graduate school in about a year, with her current NASA Space Grant mentor, professor and astrobiologist, Sara Walker.

“I’m very excited about this, but I need to make sure I get all my affairs in order before I start,” Drew said. “After I obtain my PhD, I’ll start my career as a researcher in earnest and eventually transition to politics later in life to tackle science policy. We simply need more scientists in politics, and that is evident now more than ever.”

Drew says she is both excited and intimidated by her upcoming graduation, but she feels ready for the next step and has made the most of her undergraduate experience. “ASU is always there to help you succeed,” she said, “and so I can safely say that I am proud to be a Sun Devil!”

Question: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

Answer: I like the quiet basement in the Bateman Physical Sciences H Wing and the conference room of the Engineering Center. I also like the Bateman Physical Sciences F Wing tutor center where I could always find classmates or an instructor to ask for help. To collect my thoughts, I like walking around campus and looking at the meteorite displays in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I don’t think I could give just one piece of advice, because unfortunately, real life tends to be a bit messier than that, so here are my top three.

First, get to know your professors because they are people too, and they typically want to help you succeed. Developing a rapport with your teachers will go a long way, and it will help them remember you if you want to do research, get a job, etc.

Next, be a team player. It might be tempting to slack off and let someone else do all the work, or even run everyone over with your ideas, but that is not a personality you want to develop for your professional life. Remember that your peers are going to be working in the same field as you, and you don’t want a bad reputation to precede you.

Finally, and most importantly, take care of yourself. There is no shame in having to take some time off or drop to half time to get yourself back to being better regardless of what others tell you. Life isn’t a straight shot to some finish line in which the first one there wins. It’s a journey, and usually a difficult and painful one with lots of twists, turns and pitfalls. Your journey isn’t going to be the same as your neighbors either, so be kind to yourself and avoid playing the comparison game. Of course, also be kind to others, too, because you never know what someone else is going through!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: My first instinct would be to tackle the inequality and inequity of the world as it pertains to gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. It’s beyond infuriating and heartbreaking that this sort of imbalance continues to exist, but it’s even worse when some either refuse to acknowledge the problem or try to intentionally benefit from it. However, I also realize from a practical perspective that without a planet for us to live on due to climate change, everything else is a moot point. In fact, climate change is likely to make the disparities I previously mentioned even worse. Therefore, I would likely focus on tackling human-induced climate change by getting involved in legislation targeted at this topic. Forty million dollars isn’t a lot, but you can bet I would invest wisely so I could eventually hit the corporations that are contributing the most to this issue.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration