An Initial Investigation of Students’ Understanding of Space Exploration




space exploration, space science education, university students, introductory course


The topic of space exploration receives little attention in most introductory astronomy courses. However, students come to such courses with both an interest and ideas informed by popular media–ideas that may or may not be consistent with scientific and engineering outlooks. This study explored what students recall about space exploration ideas after engaging with two short, in-class activities on the possibility of travel to Mars and the use of solar sails for exploration. We asked four open-ended questions for extra credit and coded students’ responses ($N$ = 106 to 150) for themes. Coding demonstrated that students had reasonable, if limited, understanding of factors influencing both crewed and uncrewed mission types as well as risks to crews after completing these activities.