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Middle School Students Photograph Mars

Martian crater image by students at Olympia School District, Illinois, March 19, 2002
Click to enlarge Martian crater image by students at Olympia School District, Illinois, March 19, 2002, using Mars Odyssey camera
Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
A clutch of small no-name craters on the southern hemisphere of Mars was the first site captured by a group of Illinois middle school students when NASA let them operate remotely a visible-light camera onboard the space agency's Mars Odyssey spacecraft in March 2002.

Collection of the Martian crater image marked the beginning of what NASA calls the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP). It's a science education program funded by the space agency and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena, California.

Managed by the Mars Education Program at Arizona State University, Tempe, the MSIP program will give thousands of students in grades 5 to 12 opportunity to do real-life planetary exploration and to study planetary geology using Odyssey’s visible-light camera.

Students Devin Callahan, Jessica Bogue and Nathan Lindley at Olympia School District, Illinois
Click to enlarge Olympia School District students Devin Callahan, Jessica Bogue and Nathan Lindley use Apple Macintosh computer to view Mars Odyssey photograph of Martian crater
Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
The group of 11 sixth and seventh graders from Olympia School District in central Illinois, visited Arizona State where they watched as commands were sent to Odyssey from the university’s planetary imaging facility. Students chose the study site and then directed the commands that told the camera to take a visible light picture of a precise set of coordinates on the Red Planet. Imaging scientists hit the actual command keys.

The students then watched as their data came back from the spacecraft and appeared as a raw image on the auditorium screen. The picture revealed a set of small unnamed craters at eight degrees south Martian longitude, 337 degrees west latitude. It was the most detailed image ever recorded of the features in that area of Mars. The main crater shown in the image seemed to be a young crater with sharp sides.

Students Leah Bauersfeld and Matt Westerfield at Olympia School District, Illinois
Click to enlarge students Leah Bauersfeld and Matt Westerfield at the Macintosh computer
Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
Students said they were excited by successfully locating their photographic target during the imaging session, which they had been planning for three months. After the data was complete from Odyssey, the students processed the image and searched it for new information on Martian geography.

The hands-on real-world project gave the students gained a new enthusiasm for science. They used an Apple Macintosh computer to create a PowerPoint presentation to show when they returned home.

NASA quoted student Jessica Lloyd, 13, as saying, "I think this is great because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we can be like really old and we’ll still have this to look back on. It’s great being able to find our own crater on Mars and to be able to analyze it. It might help us learn about the materials that Mars is made of. That would be so cool!"

Students Jenna Floyd and Chelsea Gill at Olympia School District, Illinois
Click to enlarge students Jenna Floyd and Chelsea Gill at the Macintosh computer
Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science in Washington, D.C. Principal investigators at Arizona State University in Tempe, the University of Arizona in Tucson and the Johnson Space Center, Houston, operate the science instruments. Additional science investigators are located at the Russian Space Research Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL.     SOURCES: NASA JPL and ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

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