Not many seventh-graders can say they have told NASA scientists where to position their spacecraft to send back images from space, but Maggie Fye, a Kyrene Centennial Middle School seventh-grader, did just that when she won NASA’s “Cassini Scientist for a Day” essay contest.
Fye’s science teacher, Jon Hutman, told his students about the contest, which consisted of studying three possible targets for the Cassini spacecraft to image near Saturn. Hutman made the essay contest an opportunity for extra credit in his class, and 65 of his 125 students ended up submitting essays.
“It was amazing how many students were motivated and inspired to try,” Hutman said.
NASA launched Cassini in 1997, and the spacecraft reached Saturn’s orbit in 2004.
“NASA has already achieved its goals, but the spacecraft is still in perfect condition,” Hutman said. “Now it is still continuing to image at certain times and places.”
For her winning essay, Fye chose to target Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Fye was drawn to Titan because of its characteristics that are similar to Earth.
Click here to read Fye's essay “I learned that Titan is actually a lot like Earth probably was before it had creatures on it,” Fye said. “I think imaging Titan will help us discover more about what Earth was like before there were people.”
Hutman was impressed with the acute observations Fye made in her essay.
“Her essay was so well thought out,” Hutman said. “She looked at Titan as Earth a billion years ago in its primal state. There is evidence of erosion and hydrocarbons on Titan, which were the key building blocks of our planet.”
According to Hutman, students like to talk about Titan because of its sheer size, but Fye went more in-depth in her essay.
“Maggie said we needed to look more at Titan to see how Earth evolved,” he said. “It was an interesting perspective.”
Fye enjoyed researching Titan, and she hopes that imaging the moon will help scientists learn more about Saturn and its rings.
“I really enjoyed writing the essay, and I was really surprised and excited when I found out I won,” she said.
Fye’s essay has been posted on NASA’s Web site, along with the other winners. Students from 20 states and 41 classrooms participated in the essay contest.
“Students bought into this contest because they thought it would be so cool to tell a scientist where and why to do something,” Hutman said. “You can see where the probe is, and that it’s a real thing doing a real job.”