Is there life on Mars?

It’s not your average summer camp.

In fact, it’s not average at all. Because when teens spend a week at the Mars Trekker Global Teen Summit in Houston, their sole responsibility is to create a place to live on the red planet.

“We were split into two ‘companies,’ and we were given the task of designing a habitat on Mars,” said 14-year-old Dee Iyer, Columbus. “We had to present a proposal to implement it on Mars.”

Dee loves science, especially astronomy, and even regularly writes on her blog, Everything Astronomy.

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So when she heard about the week-long June summit at the Johnson Space Center, it seemed like a dream come true.

“I have an obsession with everything outer space,” she said.

But Dee had to put that obsession to the test during the summit, when she worked on the human engineering team, which meant she had to shoulder much of the week’s work.

“They had carnivals planned in the evenings, and I worked through those,” Dee said.

Dee even stayed up until 2 a.m. one night to put the finishing touches on the group’s proposal about Mars.

And when it came time to present the planned habitat, Dee said some of the other campers couldn’t answer all of the questions, which forced her to step in and save the day.

“I took the mic sometimes,” she said.

And while the week was stressful at times, Dee’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

“I actually received leadership awards for staying up that late and for coordinating the presentation,” she said.

But Dee is no stranger to special recognition. Last year, she was selected for a science achievement award for the Tyro team at Northside Middle School.

“I wish I had a classroom full of Dee,” said Rocky Legge, Dee’s seventh-grade science teacher who gave her the award. “She’s studious, and her work ethic is great.”

Like her teacher, Dee’s parents, Vasu and Lalitha Iyer, said they know their daughter is talented and dedicated to her work.

“We teach her about being determined and being a role model,” Vasu Lyer said. “We want her to share what she knows so she can put Columbus on a world map.”

Luckily for the Iyers, Dee shares her parents’ dreams of spreading her love of science to the rest of the world by becoming an astrophysicist or working with Mission Control when she grows up.

“I love science so much,” she said. “I love discovering so many new things and figuring out why we’re here.”

And while science might seem daunting to other kids her age, Dee said it’s a subject that has something for everyone.

“It’s all about finding what you love,” she said. “If someone loves animals, I might point them toward biology. It’s all about finding the right subject.”

About the Mars Trekker Global Teen Summit 2015
  • When: June 15 to 19
  • Where: Johnson Space Center, Houston
  • Who: Students 13 to 17 years old
  • Special guests: Penelope Boston, PhD (astrobiologist),
    Stuart McClung (NASA engineer), Patrick Perez (motivational speaker, break dancer)
Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5712.