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South Jersey Sixth Graders Get Virtual Tour Of Mars

By Kim Glovas, Kate Bilo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- When you ask your child what they want to be when they grow up -- do they dream of taking a trip into space?

A new program is exposing students to a world of possibilities -- working to inspire a new generation of professionals dedicated to science and math.

As real astronauts work on complex solutions to get humans safely to Mars in the future -- a mobile virtual reality bus took sixth graders from Moorestown Upper Elementary School in Burlington County, New Jersey to the red planet Monday to get them interested in the jobs that could take them to infinity and beyond.

Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace-military corporation sponsored the program, called "Generations Beyond." Thanks to the company and its Mars Reality Bus, students were taken on a virtual tour of space.

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It looks like a school bus with a cool paint job -- but one step inside will take you to another world. The Mars Bus counts down and blasts off -- landing students on the red planet.

Lockheed Martin's Angela Ciummo says this is preparation for the Orion Mission.

"That will hopefully be the aircraft that sends man to Mars in 2030," Ciummo said. "So kind of getting kids excited to fill that talent pipeline," Ciummo said. "The person that may be going to Mars someday might be in middle school now, so we want to let these kids know that that could be them."

NASA wants to get to Mars by early 2030. But economists project than there could be a shortage of experts in the future.

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As many as 2.4 million stem jobs could go unfilled by 2018 - those are careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The school's science supervisor, Gavin Quinn, says the Generations Beyond is a success with students.

"The rocket building has been a big hit, and then the students come off of the virtual tour just buzzing," Quinn said. "It's like a little amusement ride that's been brought to our school today."

Lockheed Martin hopes this innovative school bus will inspire students to "dream big" and shoot for the stars.

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