Planetary Society Student Astronaut Saatvik Agarwal was invited to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the television show India Questions Tuesday, March 17, 2004. Agarwal was the only high school student selected to participate (along with 80 college students) in the group discussion, and was chosen because he worked on the Mars Exploration Rover mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Planetary Society Student Astronaut.
Agarwal and the Student Astronaut team - 16 young people from 12 different countries - worked at JPL during January and February processing images of the MarsDials located on rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The students worked in teams of two, each pair at JPL for approximately one week. Agarwal of India teamed with David Turczi of Hungary from February 6 to 15. MarsDial images are available on The Planetary Society website.
The Student Astronauts were selected by The Planetary Society as part of the Red Rover Goes to Mars education activity, the first educational experiment selected by NASA for a planetary mission. Red Rover Goes to Mars is privately funded by The Planetary Society and the LEGO Company.
Agarwal asked Powell what role countries like India could play in the new space initiative announced by President Bush. Powell replied that India and the US have already been cooperating on space and nuclear technology and will continue to do so in the future.
Many of The Planetary Society's Student Astronauts have been honored in their home countries for their participation in the Mars mission. Nomathemba Kontyo of South Africa was accorded a send-off to America by South African President Thabo Mbeki and US Ambassador Cameron Hume. Cheng-Tao Chung of Taiwan has been invited to meet that country's president later this year.
Unlike ordinary sundials, the MarsDials on the rovers have no hour lines because the rovers' changing positions would render such markings useless. Instead, the Student Astronauts added hour marks electronically to the images, using software developed at Cornell in collaboration with Woody Sullivan at the University of Washington. The MarsDial's shadow also indicates the date during the Martian year.