On the Record

Moon mission

On the Record with Jeremy Benson

Jeremy Benson is too young to remember Apollo 11’s moon landing 50 years ago, he wasn’t born yet.

Benson, a STEM educator with NIU STEAM and NIU STEM camp director, has always loved science and astronomy, even attending space camp when he was younger.

In February, Benson earned a NASA certification after attending a space educator camp at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. With the certification, Benson can borrow lunar and meteorite samples for K-12 education to help inspire the next generation of astronauts.

On May 9, Benson visited Sycamore Middle School, with two larger earth rocks, the same type as those found on the moon, two different types of lunar rocks and a vial of simulated lunar soil. During his visit, Benson taught students about the geography and geology of the moon. The students could view maps and photographs of the exact locations where each of the samples was collected by the Apollo astronauts and they learned about the chemical composition of rocks on the moon and earth.

Benson met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the opportunity to share samples of rocks from the moon locally.

Milton: Tell me more about the moon rocks.

Benson: The moon rocks are part of NASA’s inventory. Some were brought back from Apollo missions, others are from meteorites found on earth. They are in disks 8 inches round. There are different kinds of rocks, some are more rocky, others are more metallic. … The samples I brought to Sycamore Middle School included: two larger earth rocks, the same type as those found on the moon; a sample of basalt, a darker kind of moon rock; a sample of anorthosite, crystallized feldspar that is very reflective; and a vial of simulated lunar soil.

Milton: How would you describe the moon rock?

Benson: There were different types of rock samples astronauts were looking for. Some of the rock is a dull grey, others are a very reflective white, others are darker volcanic rock and not as reflective. Lunar soil samples are like dust: a little bit thick, like volcanic beads clumped into tiny little droplets. The moon rocks themselves are not unique in what they’re made of, the same elements can be found on earth. What’s unique is that they were found on the moon and where they were found on the moon’s surface.

Milton: How were the rocks found?

Benson: Most of the rocks were found with a mechanical grabber, with arms or scoops. On the first Apollo missions, the astronauts picked up whatever they could find. During later missions, they had trained the astronauts to be field geologists and find certain samples and types of rocks.

Milton: Why is remembering and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission important?

Benson: Apollo 11 was the first spaceflight that landed humans on the moon. There have been a total of six missions to the moon. As time goes on, the missions to the moon have taken on an almost legendary status. There are now rumors and conspiracy theories. The further we get from the events, the more magical mystique is created around what happened. I think it’s amazing how far we had to go and what we had to accomplish to get man on the moon. The moon has one-sixth of the gravity of earth, and [astronauts] had to calculate how to lift off the surface of the moon to come back with what samples they could find.

Milton: Why is it important to teach children about the moon and the moon landing?

Benson: Learning about the moon, its surface and the moon landing is important for everyone, regardless of what they want to be when they grow up. Science answers questions and we all have questions. Engineers solve problems, we all have problems. Learning about science helps you learn how to use tools, ask questions and understand. STEM is particularly important because classes start and end with a bell. STEM fields are interdisciplinary, life is interdisciplinary. STEM can be used in the real world, with everyone working together in concert.

Milton: Have you always been interested in space and astronomy?

Benson: I’ve always loved space. I’m too young to have been alive during the moon landing, but my mom remembers it. When I was in the fifth grade, I went to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. I saw all 13 Saturn V rockets in existence. I’ve been excited and waiting for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s mission for years. I attended a Space Exploration Educators Conference at Johnson Space Center in February and became certified to “check out” lunar samples. My first visit to a middle school was to Sycamore Middle School on May 9.

Milton: What did the day at school entail?

Benson: It was a really neat experience for the kids, an all-day event. Teachers were also involved and the students learned a lot about space: meteors, how planets are formed, about the moon landing and seeing the lunar rock samples.

Milton: Why is it important for you to teach about Apollo 11’s moon landing?

Benson: My mom remembers the moon landing, the students’ generation will be the first generation to step foot on Mars. One of those students could be the first person setting foot on Mars. Gene Kranz, one of the flight directors in charge of mission control of Apollo Missions, gave the keynote speech at the conference I went to in February. He spoke of how one of his teachers inspired him and how he kept [the teacher’s] picture on his desk. He challenged us all to get our picture on our students’ desks. It was a very inspirational way to close things out.

Milton: What amazes and inspires you about space exploration?

Benson: There were missions into deep space with the technology we now carry around in our pockets. They made it to the moon using slide rules, they invented memory foam for use in space. It’s incredible the amount of technology developed in pursuit of the goal of a man on the moon. That goal trickles down to every aspect of our lives. Today’s science fiction inspires tomorrow’s science future. … Many astronauts look out the window when they’re in space and they realize how small earth looks. It makes them realize we’re all the same, we’re all part of that tiny blue dot. It makes our differences seem so small and insignificant. There’s a whole universe out there and we’re squabbling with each other.  

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