Children crack the secret of Mars

“SO, do you think there could be life on Mars?”

“SO, do you think there could be life on Mars?”

My innocent enough question sparks a barrage of opinions which left me trying to take it all in.

“We made earth so that we could live on it, why not Mars?” declares 12-year-old Orli West.

But Kate Lohen, 11, replies: “It doesn’t have any oxygen on it, so you can’t live on it.”

We are standing in the hall at King Solomon High School, Forest Road, Barkingside.

That’s that then, I think to myself. But I’m wrong.

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These 10 to 14-year-olds have been cluing themselves up on the red planet at a special summer school – and now is the time to reveal what they had learned.

As the validity and practicalities of living on Mars is debated, 14-year-old Hannah Lawrence delivers a solution.

“You could have special houses on Mars so oxygen can get inside,” she says. “Like spacesuits, but houses.”

“It would take a lot of planning,” she says.

“I don’t see it happening. We’re overpopulated. We have to find another place to live.”

Twenty-four youngsters from King Solomon, and Ilford Jewish Primary School, Carlton Drive, both Barkingside and Clore Tikva Primary School, Fullwell Avenue, Barkingside, have been firing rockets and racing Mars rovers in a space-packed week.

The children, who are all part of the Gifted and Talented programme, which identifies students with the ability to develop at a faster rate than their year group, have visited London’s Science Museum and had the chance to chat to a space expert during the summer school.

Rockets were also been fired into the sky as the youngsters made a bid to reach Mars.

The water-filled bottles were pumped with air in the school playing fields and sent skywards as teams battled to get their rockets travelling the furthest.

The children also raced four-wheeled Mars rovers they built to explore the planet’s terrain, and had the chance to grill a space expert as they took part in a live video conference with a team from the National Space Centre in Leicester.

Farkhanda Ali, 12, said: “It’s been really good. I’ve learned a lot about Mars and it’s been interesting.”

King Solomon Gifted and Talented co-ordinator Claire Ruthven said: “The whole idea behind the week is that it’s something that they wouldn’t normally do in school.

“It’s different from the normal classes.

“It’s giving them new experiences and as gifted and talented students, we’re trying to provide them with added opportunities they wouldn’t normally receive.

“This is the first year and it’s been made possible, thanks to funding from the London Borough of Redbridge.

“We hope, if we get funding next year, that we can do this again.”

Other activities the 24-strong group enjoyed during the week-long Mission to Mars event included making telescopes and building a Mars habitat.

The children also filmed and edited news reports showcasing Mars as the next trendy holiday destination.

Parents were shown their children’s work during a celebration on the final day.

As I left the school hall on Thursday, I had one last question to ask the youngsters.

How long will it be before man lands on Mars?

“Fifty years,” says Orli after a brief pause.

“I think it will take 180 years,” says 13-year-old Jack Sanders’.

Food for thought.