Biff Starling - one of two intrepid spacefarers in The Planetary Society's web adventure, the Astrobot Diaries - is preparing for arrival on Mars when NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit bounces down on Saturday, January 3, 2004.
"Way cool!" exclaimed Biff. "I've got my handholds all picked out, and I'm ready to bounce!"
Bolted to each of NASA's two Mars Exploration Rover spacecraft is a mini-DVD provided by The Planetary Society to carry to the surface of Mars the names of 4 million people collected by NASA. The Astrobots, representations of robotic minifigures suited up for space, appear as part of the structure that mounts the mini-DVD onto each spacecraft.
The Planetary Society, in cooperation with the LEGO Company, designed the Astrobot Diaries as a program to enable young people and adults alike to journey vicariously to the Red Planet with the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Biff and his counterpart Sandy Moondust on the second Mars Exploration Rover mission, Opportunity, have discussed both the excitement of exploration and the progress of the Mars Exploration Rover mission in a series of fictitious e-mails on The Planetary Society's website.
"Biff and Sandy help voice our excitement about NASA's Mars Exploration Rover missions that will soon land on Mars," said Planetary Society Director of Projects, Bruce Betts, the voice behind The Planetary Society Astrobot Corps.
"The Astrobot Diaries help bring the excitement and the dream of space exploration closer to children all over the world," said Brad Justus, Senior Vice President of the LEGO Company.
The Astrobot Diaries intersperse humor with scientific and engineering facts to teach kids and the general public about Mars and the Mars Exploration Rover mission as Biff and Sandy explore the spacecraft and, eventually, the planet's surface. The Astrobots describe what they discover in personal and entertaining ways to engage readers worldwide more deeply in the adventure of planetary exploration.
The diaries or portions of the diaries appear in three places: in full at The Planetary Society's web site; as short versions in LEGO Magazine; and as excerpts in the Society's member publication, The Planetary Report.
The Planetary Society held a contest to name the Astrobots. The winning names, Biff Starling and Sandy Moondust, were submitted by Cindy Rossetto of Grants Pass, Oregon, whose entry was chosen from over 1000 contest submissions.