National Aeronautics and Space Administration Partnerships

The Montana Learning Center has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be an Education Affiliate of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, a component of NASA’s Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. The Montana Consortium and its members work to strengthen aerospace research and education in Montana.

In addition, the Learning Center is a partner of the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, part of the Washington Space Grant Consortium. The Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline is a collaborative K-12 education effort serving students, teachers, and their diverse communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Being a member of the Montana Space Grant Consortium and a partner of the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline allows the Learning Center to offer students and teachers throughout the Mountain West exciting and unique aerospace-related programs not available elsewhere in the area.

NASA Student Challenges

The Montana Learning Center serves as a regional hub for the annual NASA-sponsored robotics and drone challenges for middle school and high school students. Challenges center around a specific scientific topic or NASA mission.

The top-scoring middle or high school team and a second team chosen by the judges win the opportunity to visit NASA space centers, such as the Johnson Space Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Center, Ames Research Center, and Jet Propulsion Lab.

The Current Challenge:
ROADS (Rover Observation and Drone Survey) on Asteroids

The 2020-2021 NASA student challenge will simulate a mission to Vesta, the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

 The challenge will require teams to complete and document several different, interrelated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, including:

  • searching for signs of life in the teams’ environments using gas detectors and digital microscopes;
  • creating a map of a portion of Vesta’s surface;
  • building a computer-controlled drone, a computer-controlled rover and an impactor;
  • using the drone to knock the impactor off a pedestal onto a marked target on the map; and
  • landing the drone on the rover, robotically navigating the rover across potentially hazardous surfaces on the map looking for the building blocks for life, and flying the drone off the map.

 Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-2021 challenge will be held virtually. In addition, if the NASA Space Centers are still closed to the public due to the pandemic at the end of the challenge, other prizes will be awarded in lieu of visits to NASA Space Centers.

Prior Years’ Challenges

2019-2020: ROADS (Rover Observation and Drone Survey) on Mars

The 2019-2020 NASA student challenge consisted of three parts:

  • an examination of how water may have shaped the landscape of Mars near the Jerezo Crater;
  • a search for methane gas, which could indicate the presence of life on Mars at some time in the past; and
  • the building of a drone and a rover, which then were used to survey an official map of the Mars landscape, collect specimens, and more.

The 2019-2020 Student Challenge was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.


2018-2019: Apollo Next Giant Leap

The 2018-2019 NASA student challenge recreated the challenges that faced the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Each team was required to create a replica of the Apollo Lunar Module and land it, using a remote controlled drone, on a map of the lunar surface. The teams then were required to move around the map, completing various tasks, such as taking samples, while avoiding craters and other dangers on the Moon’s surface.

Take a try at navigating a computer-controlled rover

Students learn skills while solving virtual scenarios

Learn more about space exploration both past and future

Montana Aerospace Scholars Program

The Montana Aerospace Scholars Program is a unique opportunity for Montana sophomore and junior high school students and STEM teachers to explore STEM educational and career pathways while interacting with like-minded peers from across Montana and elsewhere.

The two-part program focuses on the history and future exploration of space and earth and space science. Phase one for both the sophomore and junior programs is an online course designed in partnership with NASA, the Museum of Flight in Seattle (with funding from NESSP) and the University of Washington. Juniors also must complete a final project online.

Sophomores who successfully complete the online course are invited to participate in a three-day summer experience at the Learning Center, during which they will work with STEM professionals, NASA scientists, university students, and STEM educators to plan a realistic space mission. They also are granted automatic admission into the junior program in the fall.

Juniors who successfully complete the online course can apply to receive five University of Washington natural science (ESS 102) credits and are invited to participate in a six-day summer residency experience at the Learning Center.

Montana Space Grant Consortium Internships

Each summer, the Montana Space Grant Consortium sponsors two internships at the Montana Learning Center. The interns work closely with the Learning Center’s Executive Director, Ryan Hannahoe, to expand their aerospace and astronomical knowledge and develop their “soft” skills, such as collaboration, interpersonal communications, mentoring and more.

While the exact work performed by the interns varies from year to year, in general, they work with Ryan, students and teachers in the NASA Student Challenge and assist with the Montana Aerospace Scholars program. They also work closely with MLC staff, campers and members of the general public to support the Center’s night-skies programs, including the use of the state-of-the-art telescopes and cameras located at the Center, which is the largest public observatory in Montana.

Internship applicants must have been registered as a full-time student at a Montana university or college for the most recent two semesters or three quarters and must be intending to enroll full time in the fall. They also must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and have an interest in space science, educating kids and working with the general public.

Pay ranges from $5,000 – $7,500 for ten weeks full time work depending on experience. Room and board is provided at the Center when camps are in session. To learn more or to apply, go to

Take the opportunity to work fun in with science

To sponsor these events or for more information,
contact MLC’s Executive Director, Ryan Hannahoe.
(406) 475-3638.

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