Thursday, March 22, 2007

Balloons on Mars, well almost.

Beth Dickey/J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Jonas Dino
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

March 20, 2007
RELEASE: 07-70

NASA Scientists and Teachers to Study Mars in the Mojave Desert

Moffett Field, Calif. - A passionate teacher can make any subject come alive
for students, and NASA is helping fuel that passion.

On March 25-30, 2007, NASA's Spaceward Bound project at the agency's Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will take a team of NASA scientists
and 40 teachers from throughout the country to study the unique geologic
formations of California's Mojave Desert and the supremely adapted microbes
that call it home. The Mojave's inhospitable, sun-scorched environment
presents scientists with opportunities to study environments similar to what
explorers will find on the moon and Mars. Leading the team is Chris McKay,
an Ames planetary scientist with extensive experience in field work in
extreme environments.

"We have been doing field expeditions to Mars-like environments for years,"
said McKay. "Now we're bringing along the teachers, so they can see and
participate in the exploration of these extreme environments. The teachers
become part of the research team."

Based out of the California State University Desert Research Station at
Zzyzx, Calif., 60 miles east of Barstow, Calif., teachers and scientists
will perform scientific fieldwork. The team will study the similarities of
the desert's geologic formations to those of the moon and Mars, how microbes
and chemical oxidants affect desert soil formation, and the desert's
hypolithic algae, cyanobacteria and stromatolites. Teams also will use a hot
air balloon to test new remote-sensing equipment to detect subterranean
formations such as lava tubes, caves and paleolakes.

As part of the training for the expedition, teachers participated in four
webcast training sessions that included presentations by the scientists
explaining the research they will conduct during the expedition, training
for field work in an extreme environment and discussions about how to bring
their experiences into their classrooms.

During the expedition, teachers and students around the world can follow the
action on the Spaceward Bound Web site via daily mission logs and image
captures. On March 28, the team will hold two one-hour webcasts. The first
webcast, in English, will begin at 9 a.m. PDT, followed by a Spanish webcast
at 10 a.m. PDT.

"Beginning with the training webcasts and continuing through the expedition,
'Spaceward Bound: Mojave,' enables teachers to immerse themselves in
authentic moon and Mars analog field research," said Liza Coe, co-principal
investigator for the Spaceward Bound project. "Teachers will very naturally
inject these experiences into their teaching, which is critical because
their students are the ones who will actually go to the moon and prepare for
the first human missions to Mars."

The Education Division at Ames developed the Spaceward Bound: Mojave
educational program in partnership with the Desert Research Institute, Las
Vegas, Nev., and San Jose State University, Calif., to train the next
generation of space explorers. Previous Spaceward Bound expeditions include
the exploration of the Mars-like soils in the Atacama desert in northern
Chile and two week-long, immersive, full-scale simulations of living and
working on the moon and Mars at the Mars Desert Research Station in the Utah

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters,
Washington, funds the Spaceward Bound project, which continues the agency's
tradition of investing in the nation's education programs. The project is
tied directly to the agency's major education goal of engaging Americans in
NASA's mission. NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and
linkages between formal and informal education providers of science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM). Through
hands-on, interactive educational activities, NASA is engaging students,
educators, families, the general public, and all agency stakeholders to
increase Americans' science and technology literacy.

For more information about the NASA Spaceward Bound Project, visit:

No comments: