Planetary Society's Student Navigators Operate FIDO Rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory

For Immediate Release
February 14, 2002

Mat Kaplan
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

Eight middle and high school students from around the world participated in hands-on operations of NASA's state-of-the-art prototype rover, FIDO, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California this week. These Student Navigators won a place on The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission in an international competition that inspired thousands of entries.

The Student Navigators, joined by Bill Nye the Science Guy, will share their experiences operating FIDO (short for Field Integrated Design and Operations) at a Student Press Conference today, February 14, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Six boys and two girls, these young people hail from four nations spanning four different continents: Australia, India, Poland and the United States.

"Working with a state-of-the-art NASA/JPL prototype rover is a rare opportunity for any students, and unique for a group of international students like these," said Bruce Betts, Director of Projects for The Planetary Society. "We are very excited with the performance of these talented students who represent worldwide youth interest in planetary exploration and hope for a very bright future."

FIDO is the same rover that scientists and engineers are using at JPL to train for rover operations on the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover Mission. The Mars Exploration Rover mission will deliver two rovers to the surface of Mars in 2004. Student Navigators experienced a part of the same type of training regimen as the actual Mars Exploration Rover mission operations scientists.

FIDO was remotely operated on a large-scale simulated Mars terrain at JPL, which the Student Navigator team explored through the cameras and instruments on the autonomous robotic vehicle. Remote operations took place over wireless communications from a distinct JPL location from which the rover could not be seen by the Student Navigator team. Such operations mimic actual rover exploration of a distant, alien world.

The students will share their experiences at a Student Press Conference for young journalists from middle schools and high schools throughout the Los Angeles area. The student journalists will interview the Student Navigator team, as well as Bill Nye, Bruce Betts and Emily Lakdawalla from The Planetary Society, and Edward Tunstel from JPL. Over 75 teachers and students will attend.

To prepare for rover operations, the Student Navigators underwent specialized training administered by The Planetary Society for several months, receiving their instructional materials via the Internet and by mail.

Student Navigators were selected on the basis of a journal each student wrote, which chronicled their experiences teleoperating LEGO rovers. Operating these rovers teaches students some of the skills needed to explore planets remotely. The journals also demonstrated the critical thinking skills of the participants through an exercise where each commanded a hypothetical rover to explore a Mars terrain that was drawn in the journal.

The Student Navigators program completes phase two of the Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission. A team of Student Scientists fulfilled phase one in February 2001. These young people worked at Malin Space Science Systems to target and image the surface of Mars with the camera on board the Mars Global Surveyor. In one image, the Student Scientists located an intriguing cluster of dark boulders which presents an interesting puzzle for planetary scientists who cannot yet explain why the boulders are located in that terrain.

The Planetary Society chose students in three age categories for the Student Navigator team. Contest rules permitted students to enter both phases of the Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission, and two of the Student Navigators chosen, Shaleen Harlalka of India and Kimberly DeRose of the United States, were second-time winners who also served as Student Scientists in phase one.

The winning Student Navigators are Paul Nicholas Bonato, 17, Australia; Avinash Chandrashekar, 12, India; Kimberly DeRose, 15, the United States; Shaleen Harlalka, 17, India; Jacqueline Cherie Hayes, 17, Australia; Daniel Jan Hermanowicz, 11, Poland; Kevin Hou, 13, United States; and Bhushan Prakash Mahadik, 15, India.

The back-up Student Navigator team is comprised of three boys and one girl: Kevin Kuns, 12, United States; Esteban Gomez Pineda, 18, Venezuela; Harikrishnan Ramani, 12, India; and Kamalayazhini S.P., 13, India.

Honorable Mentions for outstanding journals are: Leandro Disiuta, 14, Brazil; Alicia Lucyna Kalinowska, 14, Poland; Jung Won Lee, 15, Korea, Krzysztof Miller, 16, Poland; John S. Sohn, 13, Korea; Srikanth Sridharan, 16, India; Sastry Lakshmi Narayana Vadlamani, 14, India; and Sylvia Wolodkiewicz, 14, Poland.

Additional information on the Red Rover Goes to Mars project is available at The Planetary Society's website.


B-roll footage of the Student Navigators operating FIDO at JPL will be available at the press conference. Still images will be available on-line at the Society's website.

About Red Rover Goes To Mars

The Red Rover Goes to Mars program is an outgrowth of the Red Rover, Red Rover program -- a joint development of The Planetary Society, the Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems at Utah State University, Visionary Products, Inc., and the LEGO Company. Using computers linked through the Internet, students teleoperate robotic rovers built from LEGO Dacta components. Red Rover Goes to Mars involves students and the general public in planetary exploration opportunities.

Red Rover Goes to Mars is sponsored by The Planetary Society and the LEGO Company, with Liberte Yogurt of Canada, in cooperation with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Malin Space Science Systems, ASU Mars K-12 Education Program, and Visionary Products, Inc. The LEGO Company has been a principal partner with The Planetary Society in the development of Red Rover, Red Rover.

About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit