2010 Science, Technology and Exploration Program (STEP)

Project Co-Leads are Drs. Oana Marcu, Alfonso Davila, Jhony Zavaleta, Nathan Bramall, Brad Bebout and Richard Quinn of NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute.

Project Senior Scientist Advisor is Dr. Chris McKay of NASA Ames.

Read the bios of the Project Co-Leads and Senior Scientist here.


The NASA Science, Technology and Exploration Program (NASA STEP) is a two-week training program in Astrobiology, focused on informal education and hands-on activities in science research and space technology. The program is offered to high school students and their teachers, has begun in the summer of 2009 and will continue through 2011.

Astrobiology is the perfect tool to bring together all aspects of space exploration: it is a multidisciplinary field requiring broad understanding of the underlying scientific disciplines (physics, chemistry, biology, geology). Astrobiology exploration on Earth and beyond, often in extreme environments, also involves robotics, advanced technology and state-of-the-art instrumentation.

Designed around a mission-building concept, NASA STEP consists of a series of science and engineering discovery discussions, hands-on exploration activities and local and virtual field trips with the background theme of participating in a robotic mission to Mars to search for traces of life.

The program offers direct interaction with scientists and engineers through access to on-going investigations and mission planning at NASA Ames Research Center and associated fieldwork. It exercises collaborative and team-building skills among all participants - students, teachers and practicing scientists.

Program Details (PRELIMINARY 2010 program)

The current program for 2010 will support twenty-four students and six teachers from six local high schools (team of 4 students and 1 teacher). Every day NASA STEP attendees participate in short, guided Science Discovery Lectures related to life sciences, biophysics, planetary sciences and space exploration. Engineering Discovery Lectures will provide students with a broad overview of the many aspects of space technology, including satellites, spacecrafts, mission planning, robotics, instrumentation, etc.

The activities at NASA Ames are complemented by a weekend-long field trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, designed to directly involve the students in the research and engineering in extreme environments used as analogs to planetary conditions. The field experience is a key part of the program, following and exemplifying the exploratory activities in the laboratory.

The engineering component includes robotics and programming workshops followed by a student robotics challenge, and a rocketry workshop concluded with a student rocket launch along LUNAR at NASA Ames.

A sample of the 2009 daily schedule and topics can be found here.

Bios for the course organizers and contributors can be found here.

Program Goals

A primary goal of NASA STEP is to exploit NASA's unique position to provide a top-notch training program and thereby engage and motivate young students to choose science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-oriented careers. Along with the students, the teachers receive professional training directly from scientists and engineers involved in research and mission design. The participants become NASA ambassadors for public awareness and support for space activities and exploration.

Applying for the Program

Online applications for NASA STEP must be submitted for each student, (student application) following approval by the coordinating teacher (teacher application).

For additional details regarding the forms please contact Vicky Criddle, maria.v.criddle@nasa.gov.


The middle school component of STEP is a 3-day hands-on astrobiology program that includes building microbial mats (see trifold brochure below) and rovers designed to detect life. A half-day field trip to salt ponds nearby is led by Dr. Brad Bebout of NASA Ames to introduce the participants to the search for life elsewhere.

2010 is the first year of the middle school pilot program, which will take place at the NASA Ames Research Center from June 27 - 30th and will be taught by NASA staff.

We are accepting teams of four middle school students + one science teacher per school from 5 schools.

STEP2010 Brochure

2010 STEP Brochure: A Student's mission to Mars

STEP2010 Brochure PRELIMINARY 2010 Course Calendar
STEP2010 Brochure Microbial Mats Trifold Brochure (Outside)
STEP2010 Brochure

Microbial Mats Trifold Brochure (Inside)

Administrative Contact:

Brad Bebout 1 (650) 604-3227

Last Update: June 14, 2010