The Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars Experience

Distance Learning


Eight lesson modules have been compiled to expand students’ knowledge, to prepare the Scholars for a week at NASA LaRC if accepted to attend a Summer Academy, and to familiarize them with aerospace exploration. Learning will take place through weekly reading assignments, simulations, viewing video segments, and participating in online discussions. Learning will be demonstrated through completion of case study analyses, technology design activities, content-related math/physics problems, quizzes, participation in online discussions, technical writing reports, and a final scientific report. These module activities are submitted in sequential order every two weeks and posted through the VASTS online course website. All activities within the modules are reviewed and evaluated by a certified Virginia educator through the online system with detailed feedback provided.

Sample Module:
Once students have been accepted to the VASTS program, they will receive instructions on how to complete and submit each module assignment.

All VASTS modules are aligned to the following standards for students in grades 9-12.

  • Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL's) for Mathematics, Science, and Computer/Technology
  • National Educational Technology Standards (isteNETS)
  • National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards
  • International Technology Education Association (ITEA)
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES)

Online Discussions/Chat Room
Scholars participate with NASA mentors ,VASTS staff, their instructors, and each other in on-line discussions during the course. These online discussions focus on current aerospace science and technology that support NASA’s vision for space exploration. As part of the course assessment, Scholars are expected to participate in these discussions.

Final Projects
Scholars who are chosen to participate in the Summer Academy submit a final project before completion of the VASTS Online Course. These projects represent the culmination of knowledge gained from the online modules and prepare the students for their work at the Summer Academy where they will collaboratively design a human mission to Mars. Completion of pre-Academy assignments and a Systems Elements presentation are a requirement prior to participation.

Science Elective Credit:
If selected students participate in the distance learning coursework and complete the Summer Academy program, school districts will be encouraged to grant a science elective credit towards graduation. The final decision regarding any credit rests with the student's school system.

College Credit:
Students may receive up to four college credits, at no cost to them, from Thomas Nelson Community College depending upon their successful completion of the online course and Summer Academy program.

  • Online Course: MECH 100 Introduction to Aerospace Engineering Technology– 2.0 credits
  • Summer Academy: MECH 297 Cooperative Education in Mechanical Engineering Technology – 2.0 credits.

Summer Academy Activities

Cooperative Activities:
Students are grouped into five teams; Mission Integration, Mission Transit, Human Factors, Science and Surface Operations, and Strategic Communications. Teams work collaboratively to design a feasible human mission to Mars. At the end of the week at NASA Langley Research Center they present details of their mission to NASA scientists, engineers, and technologists in addition to aerospace industry representatives during a Mission Design Review Panel and then to NASA administrators, state legislators, parents, and other VIPs at the Closing Ceremony.

Other Activities:
Scholars learn to design, configure, build, and program robotic rovers and participate in field testing their inventions. Scholars will tour different facilities and labs that are typically not accessible to the public to view projects and technologies that currently support space exploration programs. Scholars have the opportunity to observe a vast array of careers in the areas of math, science, engineering, and technology. They will also undertake a number of hands-on experiential activities and receive seminar presentations by state legislators, NASA scientists, engineers, technologists, and astronauts and aerospace industry representatives.


During the Summer Academy, at least two NASA scientists or engineers mentor each of the five teams. The NASA Mentors work directly with the students several hours each day to offer guidance, advice, and knowledge to help the Scholars successfully complete their Human Mission to Mars design project. The Scholars learn from the Mentors how to work effectively on a project team when given a budget with specific parameters and tight benchmarks and deadlines to meet. The Mentors also share their background and working experiences with the Scholars.

Follow-Up Commitment

As a VASTS Scholar, once the distance learning activities are finished and the Summer Academy has ended, the responsibility continues. Scholars are encouraged to

  • Maintain an e-mail relationship with their team mentor
  • Stay in touch with fellow scholars
  • Continue to visit the VASTS web site
  • Recommend the program to other students
  • Help recruit new students
  • Participate in online discussions or through email correspondence for new students
  • Continue contact with VASTS program staff, as required, and maintain information concerning their choice of college, choice of major, and post-graduation plans.

Contact Information

For questions or concerns about program materials and related information, please contact:

Priscilla Hill, VASTS Program Assistant
email :
office : (757) 766-5210
fax : (757) 766-5205

For questions about the curriculum, modules, and Summer Academy, please contact:

Ian Cawthray, VASTS Education Program Coordinator
email :
office : (757) 766-5210
fax : (757) 766-5205