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As excitement and anticipation build for Saturday's historic launch of the Mars InSight Lander, children from the Santa Maria Valley and beyond had the chance Wednesday morning to learn from the scientists and engineers directly involved in making it possible.

Stopping at the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum as part of NASA's Mars InSight Roadshow, a multi-stop tour of California cities, members of InSight's mission and science teams were on hand to field questions while children played and learned about the scope of the mission from family-friendly science activities.

The Roadshow will return to the Discovery Museum on Thursday morning and head to Hancock College on Friday night for its annual Friday Night Science event. 

"I've been able to explain it to my own kids," said InSight's Flight Systems Engineer Brian Bone, "which is beneficial to being at a museum like this. I try and make it simple and relate it to things they know or have seen on Earth."

The first-of-its-kind mission will provide researchers a glimpse of the red planet's geophysics, in hopes of offering a better understanding of how terrestrial planets form.

"It was important to this mission to engage students and the public in the data," said seismologist Tammy Bravo. Employed by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology consortium, one of InSight's educational partners, Bravo said she will help develop curriculum for students to engage with the forthcoming data. 

To better understand how internal processes shape the surface, a specially designed probe will bore 16 feet into the planet to measure the heat flow from the core. Seismic data from marsquakes and meteorite strikes will be collected by a seismograph and transmitted back to Earth, allowing scientists to discern the composition of the Martian planet's layers and core. 

"Seismology is the reason we know what we know about the interior of the Earth," Bravo said. "We know how to study the planet from all the seismology work we've done on Earth. Now we can apply those techniques to another planet ... which will give us a lot of information about the interior of [Mars.]"

Jessica Olnick, an Arroyo Grande mother to four home-schooled children, said she brought her family to the Discovery Museum to enhance the classroom lessons they completed over the last few weeks.

"With home schooling, you can adapt whatever is going on," she said, adding that they plan to make the trip to Lompoc to witness the historic launch. "We heard about the launch and decided to make that part of our lesson plan. We've been reading as many books we can find at the library. Today, we let the children explore what [NASA] does."

Though his children are younger than the Olnick family, Santa Maria father Joe Ellazar spent the morning at the museum with his two toddlers.

"My son loves aeronautics and aviation and I've always been interested in Mars," he said, calling the roadshow a "cool, fun experience."

"They're having a blast," Ellazar added. "Hopefully, one day he'll be an astronaut."

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Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.