Ever since the first spacecraft rocketed beyond Earth, children around the world have dreamed of exploring space. The LEGO Company and The Planetary Society, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration of our solar system, are about to make that dream come true. These organizations have partnered with NASA to sponsor an ambitious program that allows children to play an integral, hands-on role in NASA's upcoming Mars Exploration Rover-2003 mission, which is set to explore Mars in early 2004.
This joint initiative, called Red Rover Goes to Mars, provides an exciting opportunity for students to participate in a robotic planetary exploration mission. The project was announced today in Houston at a Student Press Conference held at the World Space Congress. The Red Rover Goes to Mars project allows students to compete for the opportunity to work directly with the Mars Exploration Rover-2003 mission. The project also provides actual hardware-DVDs containing millions of names-attached to the two NASA spacecraft.
Red Rover Goes to Mars is breaking new ground in two ways:
It marks the first time in decades that individual students have had the opportunity to directly compete for the chance to work in mission operations during a robotic planetary exploration mission.
It represents only the second privately contributed hardware on a U. S. planetary mission. (The first was The Planetary Society's Mars Microphone on the failed Mars Polar Lander.)
Applicants for the Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronaut program will compete for the opportunity to join scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena, CA and participate in NASA's Mars Exploration Rover-2003 mission. The winning team of Student Astronauts will work directly with the sundial and magnet teams. Selected Student Astronauts will rotate through JPL in teams of two, with each team spending approximately one week at the facility. They will also serve as ambassadors to the world at large, communicating over the Internet and through other media both about what they learn about Mars and about life inside mission operations with the scientists and engineers.
The Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronaut contest is open to young people worldwide. To enter the essay contest, students must be born between September 1, 1986 and September 1, 1990.
"The students of today are the explorers of tomorrow," says Planetary Society Director of Projects, Bruce Betts. "This is why The Planetary Society is working so hard to involve and excite them now about the exploration of Mars."
DVDs on Mars Landers
The Planetary Society and LEGO Company are also producing two DVDs that will be mounted on the two Mars Exploration Rover-2003 landers. Each DVD will carry millions of names, and people around the world are encouraged to send their names to Mars by signing up on NASA's website.
"We're honored to be partnering with The Planetary Society and NASA to stimulate kids' interest in space exploration," said Brad Justus, Senior Vice President of the LEGO Company. "Over the next 18 months we will be unveiling many programs that support this goal. The mini-robot featured on the DVD face will help communicate the story of the Mars mission from the point of view of a child."