The Planetary Society's newest Mars Station debuts today, December 18, 2004, at Planetary Society headquarters in Pasadena, California. The Carl Sagan Memorial Mars Station simulates the landing site of NASA's Pathfinder mission, which included the first Mars rover, Sojourner. A robotic rover built of LEGO components explores this alien terrain, controlled by operators who log on over the Internet.
What's it like for planetary scientists to explore an alien world robotically? Mars Stations offer a rare insight into what goes on in mission control by providing a rover's eye view of the landscape from a camera mounted on each rover. Users determine what direction to travel from the image seen on a computer screen.
Selecting safe paths using near-ground level imaging is done by many planetary missions, including NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, ESA's Mars Express Beagle 2 lander which includes a robotic "mole," and NASA's highly successful 1997 Pathfinder Sojourner rover. Beagle 2 will land on Mars on Dec. 25, 2003, and the Mars Exploration Rovers will land on Mars in January 2004.
In addition to the Pasadena Station, two other Mars Stations are currently on line. Each simulates a particular region on Mars, and all can be accessed at The Planetary Society's website.
With each Mars Station offering a different landscape, Internet visitors can visit a crater one day and the Martian south pole the next. Participants will come to a far greater understanding of the incredible diversity and richness of the Red Planet, and the technology that allows us to explore it.
The two other Mars Stations are:
Mars Station Crater Gusev, Centro de Astrobiología, Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain
Mars Station Melas Chasma, Valles Marineris, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA
Additional Mars Stations will come online in the coming months at schools and museums around the world, including Mars Station Olympus Mons at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii; Mars Station Terra Meridiani, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; Mars Station Spirit, Bret Harte Middle School, Los Angeles, California; Mars Station Elysium Mons, Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington; and Kasei Vallis, Mars Society Canada Station, Sarnia, Ontario.
Other Mars Stations are under development at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; the University of Reading, the Glasgow Science Centre, and the National Space Centre in the United Kingdom; The Indian Planetary Society, Borivli, Mumbai; the Singapore Science Centre; Mars Station Baetis Chasma, Hadley Middle School, Wichita, Kansas; and the Steno Museum planetarium and the Orion Planetarium as well as at the LEGO Company's headquarters in Denmark.
NASA renamed the Pathfinder lander the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. Planetary scientist and renowned author Carl Sagan was one of The Planetary Society's founders and its first President. Hence, the Carl Sagan Memorial Station was the logical choice for the Mars Station hosted at Planetary Society Headquarters.
The public can enjoy a firsthand look at a Mars Station at the Planetary Society's two-day event, Wild About Mars at the Pasadena Center, on January 3-4, 2004. Wild About Mars coincides with the landing of Spirit, the first Mars Exploration Rover, and will offer participants a chance to witness space history, experiencing the excitement of a planetary landing through a live feed on a giant screen. Call 1-877-PLANETS or visit The Planetary Society's website for more information and to order tickets.
Mars Stations are part of The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars project, done in partnership with the LEGO Company. Visionary Products, Inc. developed the Mars Stations software under contract from The Planetary Society.
LEGO rovers used in the Carl Sagan Memorial Mars Station were designed by builders around the world who submitted designs to the Build a Better Rover Contest. LEGO enthusiasts who want to suggest their own unique rover designs can enter the second Build a Better Rover Contest. The contest closes on January 21.