Piper Partners With the Barboza Space Center

As educators and parents, we strive to provide students with opportunities to learn about real-world problems, ideally in a hands-on manner. But what if we could provide them with something that is also out-of-this-world? Educator and design engineer Bob Barboza has devoted his life to doing just that. As founder of the Barboza Space Center in Long Beach, CA, Barboza has animated STEAM learning on Earth, through the unique lens of investigating life on Mars.

At the Barboza Center, students collaborate to solve problems posed by expert engineers. They form what is known as ‘Tiger Teams’ to develop solutions for various challenges that might arise during the colonization of Mars: growing food in volcanic soil, maintaining electrical power during dust storms, providing education for colonizers, and throwing an interplanetary robotic concert. Students employ a multitude of 21st century skills such as coding, 3D printing, and designing experiments in order to develop innovative solutions to complex questions. 

The Space Center Tiger Teams Program is a natural extension of Bob Barboza’s background as a design engineer and credentialed teacher with experience in Gifted and Talented programs. After a dedicated teaching career, Bob Barboza channeled his passions for education and innovation to create the Barboza Space Center, offering students the opportunity to investigate space ventures as part of their STEAM learning. The concept for the Space Center’s Tiger Teams was to create a special group that NASA might recruit in the face of an urgent crisis demanding trained experts. Currently, Tiger Teams are comprised of high school and pre-college students, many from Long Beach Unified School District due to Bob Barboza’s partnership with the district’s superintendent. Bob Barboza consults with Northrop Grumman’s Head of Engineering and a professor from UCLA’s Math Department to advise the students and point them to academic resources when needed.  Bob Barboza hoped to use what he had built to work with both students and experts to conduct research and build tools that can help us colonize Mars in the future.

Barboza’s initial vision for what students and experts could achieve through collaboration in STEAM initiatives evolved into a full-blown simulation of life on Mars. To ensure the feasibility of their inventions, the team set out to find a landmass on earth with geological features similar to those on Mars. Such an environment would enable the Tiger Teams to collect and analyze data to better understand the viability of their inventions. Barboza had the idea to contact a country with an uninhabited island that fit the bill of Mars-like geological features. He worked with Long Beach Unified School District to connect with delegates of Cabo Verde, a country off the northwest coast of Africa, to secure access to an uninhabited island in their archipelago. 

The Tiger Teams partnered with Cabo Verdean high school students to implement their experiments remotely. Students in California digitally shared designs for necessary materials with their Cabo Verdean counterparts, who 3D printed the designs and utilized them to collect relevant data on the island. Data was then sent back to the Barboza Space Center for in-house analysis. This cross-collaborative program not only engaged students in both countries, but encouraged them to communicate across cultures and languages.

In addition to all of the challenges and necessary critical thinking skills posed, Barboza added another obstacle to complicate the conditions of the mission. Students were faced with the following scenario: Two space shuttles were sent to Mars as colonizers, one containing people and vital supplies for their survival, and the other containing all the advanced technology intended for use on Mars. The tech shuttle didn’t make it, forcing students to rely on the only computing system on the life-supplies shuttle: the Piper Computer Kit. With the Piper Computer Kit as their only computer technology to accomplish colonization, all of the Tiger Team’s projects emanate from the Raspberry Pi, electrical components, and software abilities of the kit. 

Here’s an example of how the program would work: Tiger Teams at the Barboza Space Center would first communicate with the Cabo Verde students to provide them with the experiments they would be running. This would all be done utilizing technology remotely with communications that have been translated from English to Portueguese and vice versa. The Piper Computer Kits would then be utilized by the Tiger teams to create data collection processes and test them with in-house soil samples.  The Cabo Verdean students would then recreate these experiments on the volcanic soil on the uninhabited island. In order to collect the soil, Cabo Verde students need to receive 3D printing design files from their counterparts back at the Barboza Space Center. Once printed, the group in Cabo Verde can collect the data using the 3D printed collection containers, volcanic soil samples, and the Piper Computer Kit. This means both the Tiger Teams and the Cabo Verde students must code the sensors to collect and output the desired data sets. Once data is collected, the Cabo Verde students must send the data back to students at the Barboza Space Center for analysis. This requires further translated communication as the students collaborate. They are currently using this to analyze the soil for its ability to grow vegetation for food purposes. This allows them to answer the question: How will we feed the Mars inhabitants when we colonize?

In addition to solving the food problem on Mars, the Piper Computer is also being used for other Mars Colonization projects such as playing a concert with robots of the Mars inhabitants using the Piper Computer to code the robots remotely here on Earth or using the Piper Computer as a control system for rockets. Bob Barboza believes that using the Piper Computer Kit will force students to use a powerful tool with creativity and practice STEAMD++ skills they develop in his Pathways program. Although STEAM has become a mainstream term in Education with the addition of the A for Arts, Bob Barboza wants to transcend this with the D for design and the ++ for learning to code and foreign language inclusion in their translation between countries through collaboration with Cabo Verde..

So what’s next for Bob Barboza and his Tiger Teams? He hopes to continue to encourage students to join the Space Force and get interested in aviation through the Pathways program. He also hopes to bring this project to the next level by incorporating AR and VR into the Tiger Teams missions, expand the program in Cabo Verde, tap into other potential initiatives for Mars colonization. Future initiatives include developing the first band on Mars and developing the first school on Mars.

The Piper Team is extremely enthused and inspired by Bob Barboza’s team of experts and the Tiger Team working to solve these problems. We hope to continue to support them on their quest to help bring us closer to Mars Colonization and answer the unanswered questions.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published