BILLINGS, MONT. — Ask three Girl Scouts from Kalispell, Montana where STEM can take them in the future and they’ll tell you it’s already taken them farther than they ever imagined.

Jessie Chadwick, Katie Eberhardy and Lexi Nunnally—also known as the Lunar Loonies—returned from a trip to Florida earlier this month where they received a uniquely personal and up close experience at the Kennedy Space Center and NASA facilities. The unique experience was earned in July when the girls participated in—and won—the Middle School Division of the Apollo Next Giant Leap Student (ANGLeS) Challenge, a national challenge celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The ANGLeS Challenge was hosted by the Montana Learning Center in Helena.

The girls, who are part of a larger all-girl Robotics team named RoboScout Squad, took on the summer challenge to build a replica of the lunar module and use a remote-controlled drone to land it on an 8-by-10-foot map of the moon’s surface. They then programmed their Lego Mindstorms robot to navigate and complete tasks on the map. The fete is impressive for anyone, but more so is the fact that the team is an all-girl team.Research shows that girls are keenly interested in STEM and excel at it. Yet, for a variety of reasons, girls often don’t pursue STEM—starting as early as elementary school.

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On Tuesday, November 5th, the Girl Scouts explored the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where they visited the Heroes and Legends exhibit and Rocket Garden. They also had lunch with Astronaut Tom Jones who spoke about the evolution of meals in space. They also visited the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and Apollo exhibit.  

The following day, the girls received a personal tour of the NASA facilities from Steve Chance, Project Manager of NASA INSPIRE (Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience). At the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building the girls met with Dr. Janine Captain to discuss the Mass Spectrometer observing lunar operations instrument. MSolo is a commercial off-the-shelf mass instrument modified to work in space, and can identify molecules at lunar landing sites.

At the International Space Station Environment Simulator the girls heard about the Veggie Program from Dr. Gioia Massa. The Vegetable Production System (Veggie) is a plant growth system developed and used by NASA in outer space environments to provide a self-sufficient and sustainable food source for astronauts as well as a means of recreation and relaxation through therapeutic gardening.

The girls then received a tour around campus and visited the Crawler/Transporter, Mobile launch pad, the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Pad 39B and the Launch Control Center where they were given a tour by Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, current NASA Launch Director for the Artemis Program.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold less than 28 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs in the United States but make up more than 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. Reports show that STEM occupations are growing at double the rate of other professions.

STEM is one of four pillars that form the foundation of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. Girl Scouts who participate in girl-focused STEM programs:

  • Become better problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and inspirational leaders
  • Get better grades, earn scholarships, and follow more lucrative career paths
  • See STEM as the foundation for a meaningful and successful future

The remaining pillars include OutdoorsLife Skills and Entrepreneurship.

This year Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming are sponsoring 9 all-girl FIRST LEGO League Robotics teams.

GSMW membership consists of 9,242 girls and more than 3,000 adults with national membership at 2.5 million. To join Girl Scouts or become a volunteer please visit www.gsmw.org or call 800-736-5243.

Posted at fairfieldsuntimes.com