Local Students Recreate Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Emily Cicchini’s son, Remi, is fascinated with the idea of exploring our final frontier.

“When I was 8, I got a space suit for Christmas, and I’ve always been interested in the concept of going to space and doing something important with my life,” said Remi.

So when Emily and Remi were looking for summer activities, they checked the NASA website, where they found the Apollo Next Giant Leap Student (ANGLeS) Competition.


This year’s ANGLeS Competition was conceived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The challenge, open to students in grades 5-12 across the United States and territories, is to recreate the Apollo 11 moon landing using a drone and a LEGO Mindstorm robot. 

Emily and Remi decided to assemble a team of Dripping Springs Middle School students to participate in the challenge. 

“We are inspired and humbled by the success of the Apollo 11 astronauts and scientists, and are looking forward to seeing NASA continue to reach for the stars for years to come.  It’s thrilling to be even a small part of this important work,” said Emily.

Members of the Marvelous Earthling Moon Explorers (M.E.M.E.) Team are:

Commander:  Ethan Miller, 14
Lunar Module Pilot:  Remi Cicchini, 14
EVA Officer:  Macallister (Mackey) Weikert, 13
Science Officer:  Cosimo Crespi, 13
CAPCOM:  Reese Alford, 13

Remi said that the group of friends has worked well together.

“There’s a great synergy on this team, which has helped us get things done pretty quickly and easily.”

The M.E.M.E. Team has to complete a sequence of tasks that mirror the original mission of the Apollo 11 landing team, from designing and building a lander and a rover, to using coding skills to pilot the lander.

“Our main obstacle is time,” said Emily. “We must start, complete the mission, and return to base within 15 minutes. If we are successful, we may be invited to participate at the regional and national levels.”

In the spring, Emily saw a presentation that the Science Mill gave about the Mill’s summer programs, and decided to reach out about a collaboration. Bob Elde, Science Mill Science Director, and Portia Marchman, Science Mill Director of Operations, were excited to host the students and be part of the ANGLeS Competition. M.E.M.E team members have been meeting at the Mill to develop their lander and rover, and to practice the mock moon landing.

“We’re always looking for ways to get involved with our community and support students who are seeking out STEM related activities outside of the classroom,” said Marchman.


 On June 22, the M.E.M.E. Team is participating in the Science Mill’s Drones & Droids event. They are going to fly their drone-based lander about 20 feet to a target on a map of the lunar surface. Next, they will pilot a droid-like rover to deposit a payload of a cultural artifact and pick up a sample moon rock, followed by returning to base where the Science Officer, Cosimo Crespi, will identify the rock sample.

 “We’re a little nervous,” said Remi. “If we don’t take it seriously, that leaves room for error, and we want it to go well so we can go on to the next round. This Saturday is going to be a trial by fire.”


 Join us on Saturday, June 22 to watch this incredible team reenact the Apollo 11 landing. To show his support, former NASA Astronaut Tom Henricks will be in attendance to meet the M.E.M.E. team and watch their moon landing demo. Meet Mr. Henricks and R2-D2, as well! All event details can be found on our website.

Drones & Droids activities and presentations are free with admission. Share your photos at the Science Mill with us! #sciencemill #dronesanddroids #explorejctx


Bubble Fiesta!


On May 4th we’re hosting a Bubble Fiesta in our backyard, the Science and Art Park, featuring hands-on bubble creation stations!

 It may look like play - and trust us, you’re in for gallons of bubbly fun - but these stations encourage inquiry-based learning by integrating science, engineering, and math.

 Last month, Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck, a professor emerita at The University of Texas at Austin, was the first woman to win one of the top prizes in mathematics for her discovery of a phenomenon called “bubbling.”

 "Bubbles entice for their seeming simplicity, which approaches the existential,”  said Dr. Uhlenbeck, a professor emerita at The University of Texas at Austin.

Join us on May 4 from 11am-2pm, to experience enticing, existential bubbles at our bubble creation stations:

  • BYOBW - Build Your Own Bubble Wand - Become a bubble engineer and design your own, unique bubble wands!

  • Bubble Formulas  - Concoct a bubble solution using chemistry principles, and learn what makes the biggest, best bubbles!

  • Multi-Dimensional Bubbles - Math concepts really pop when you construct geometric shapes to make multi-dimensional bubbles you'll have to see to believe!

  • Giant Bubbles - Even the bubbles are bigger in Texas!


And the exploration doesn’t stop with bubbles! The Science and Art Park is home to exhibits that will challenge you, thrill you, and entertain you all day long:

  • Visually stunning and interactive, you control our 30-foot-tall Colossal Robotic Hand.

  • At the Fossil Dig, you use real excavation tools to unearth hidden dinosaurs and more.

  • Experience our over-the-top Rube Goldberg-esque labyrinth, the Incredible Ball Machine.

  • Take on the Giant Lever for a challenging game of tug-o-war.

  • Don’t miss our gentle giants, three African Spurred Tortoises named Speedy, Tortilla, and Miss Jiff.

We really hope you pop by! (Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves.)

 Science Mill admission includes everything mentioned above, plus over 50 hands-on interactive exhibits (and a 3D movie!) throughout the historic mill.

 We are open from 10am-4pm on Saturday, May 4, with Bubble Fiesta activities from 11am-2pm.

Another STEM-tastic year of Homeschool Days!

Another STEM-tastic year of Homeschool Days is coming to a close! We are already prepping for the 2019-2020 school year (registration for the STEM Scholar Program is open!), but thought we’d take a moment to celebrate all we learned this past year.

The 2018-19 school year is wrapping up with a focus on careers in Coding for May. Jennie Kam from Cisco will speak about cybersecurity, and Cisco employees will be on hand for a special game of Pitching Packets. The game demonstrates how networks function, and what kinds of things can make them better or slow them down. Students will also examine binary code (while making cool bracelets!), and program our robot, Botley.

 The Science Mill’s inaugural group of STEM Scholars graduates on May 9, too! Read more about this unique program, and register for 2019-2020 STEM Scholars now!

Create a Butterfly Destination


After a record wildflower bloom this year, Texas is now expecting unusually high numbers of monarch butterflies. This is the perfect year to plant that butterfly garden you’ve always wanted.

 Monarch butterflies travel through central Texas two times every year, on their way to Mexico for the winter and again when they return to Canada for the summer. On the Texas A&M website, Craig Wilson, director of the USDA Future Scientists Program, notes that the migrating monarch population has increased by 144 percent in the past year. He is estimating that we could see 300 million monarchs pass through the state, and that’s encouraging after several years of declining numbers.

 In an article from the Monarch Watch blog, Chip Taylor outlines some of the factors that influence monarch population sizes. Thanks to a healthy winter in Mexico with low mortality rates, and good weather over Texas and Oklahoma during the March-May migration time, numbers are projected to increase at the highest rate in several years.

 “Some consider this year to be a throwback monarch migration, potentially with trees covered in monarchs,” said Lisa Keys, Science Mill Animal and Plant Care Technician. “I've already seen more butterflies out in the garden this year compared to previous years, which is really exciting."

 Attracting monarchs and other pollinators requires the right kinds of plants. Central Texans can expect to see the monarchs anywhere there are milkweed plants, a monarch favorite. Our home state boasts large swaths of milkweed. The butterflies lay their eggs under the leaves, and feed off of the plants. 


When planning the Science Mill’s brand new butterfly garden in our Science & Art Park, we learned that not all milkweed is good for monarchs. It’s important to get native plants that are in sync with with our local seasons. This goes for other varieties of plants in your garden, too. Encouraging healthy pollination locally can have a global impact.

 “Butterflies are not only fun to watch, but they serve a critical purpose as well,” said Zac Zamora, Science Mill Creative Director. “Butterflies and other pollinators, including bees, moths, birds, and bats pollinate over 75% of the world’s flowering plants.”

 To attract pollinators, our Science Mill garden includes these plant varieties, all available at local nurseries (listed by how much sun they need, from full sun to shade preferred):


Once your garden is in, you can be part of this year’s historical monarch migration by reporting sightings and following their journey to Canada on the Journey North website.

You can check out our Butterfly Garden at the Science Mill! We would love to see pictures of your visit to the Science Mill’s butterfly garden and of your own garden. Share them on social media and tag the Science Mill! You can find us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.