Be an Explorer

1869-1969-2069 Paper Explorer Series

What do YOU think it takes to be an explorer? Where do YOU want to go? Down an unmapped canyon? To the South Pole? To the moon or to Mars? Have fun exploring! You can start today by taking a Paper Explorer on an adventure in your neighborhood, in front of a fun photo or map, or on vacation!

1869 – Educator, Civil War Major, Geologist, and Explorer John Wesley Powell first mapped the Green & Colorado rivers. He later went on to become the second director of the USGS.

1969 –Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon and Dorothy Vaughan was one of the “human super computers” who was responsible for the calculations for the Apollo missions to be able to safely land (and return from) the moon. USGS scientists at Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff trained every person who walked on the moon.

2069 Paper Explorers – Anyone and everyone! Who will be the first person to walk on Mars? Could it be you? Stay tuned for our 2069 #paperexplorer and imagine yourself as the first to walk on Martian soil!


  • Download, print, and color a Paper Explorer and use scissors to cut out the figure. For a sturdier Paper Explorer, use glue or tape to attach your sheet to a thin piece of spare cardboard, such as an old cereal box. 
  • Take your Paper Explorer on an adventure and photograph the places he or she goes. 
  • Please tag us on Instagram @USGS_YES and use #paperexplorer, or email a JPEG to us at By doing so, you are granting us permission to use your photo in educational materials, in accordance with our policy at
  • Optional: After your Paper Explorer has been on adventures with you, send him or her on adventures with a friend or relative.  Or, ask your parents for a stamp and send your Paper Explorer to: U.S. Geological Survey, Youth & Education in Science (YES) Program Mail Stop 911, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192 and your Paper Explorer may get to be part of our educational materials and web site! Submissions will not be returned. 

1869 Paper Explorer - John Wesley Powell  

1969 Paper Explorer - Neil Armstrong

  • Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930 in Ohio.
  • As a young boy, he loved planes and was an Eagle Scout.
  • He earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Perdue University and his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Southern California.
  • He was a Navy pilot for three years, then worked as a test pilot and helped to design planes.
  • He was selected to become an astronaut and flew on the Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 missions.
  • He was the first human to walk on the moon! His first words were, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
  • Later, he went on to be a college professor, researcher and a businessman.
  • Neil Armstrong died on August 12, 2012.

1969 Paper Explorer – Dorothy Vaughan

  • Dorothy Vaughan was born on September 20, 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri.
  • As a young girl, she loved math and was a high school math teacher in Virginia.
  • She was a mathematician before calculators and computers were invented, and was an expert programmer.
  • She was the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA was a precursor to NASA) and led the segregated West Area Computing Unit and was NASA’s first African-American manager.
  • She was known as a “human computer” and Neil Armstrong probably would not have landed safely on the moon if not for her work.
  • She worked with other well-known female mathematicians such as Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Eunice Smith and Kathryn Peddrew and advocated for the women of the West Area Computing Unit.
  • She was portrayed by actress Octavia Spencer in the movie Hidden Figures and died on November 10, 2008.

2069 Paper Explorer - Coming soon!