Innovative Web Site Brings Mars Exploration to Desktops

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February 20, 2004

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is enhancing the availability of all Mars rover images for students and the public by distributing them via the Internet. The images can be viewed on the NASA Web site at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov as well as the educational Web site MarsQuest Online at http://www.marsquestonline.org/mer/.

The sites allow anyone with an Internet connection to participate in the adventure of Mars exploration. MarsQuest Online is making the full set of images from Spirit and Opportunity available for public viewing, along with daily updates, in an integrated exploration and education environment. The site is a powerful example of inquiry-based learning and public engagement in the thrill of exploration and discovery.

Dr. Eric De Jong of JPL heads the Science Data Visualization and Modeling team that produces images of the rovers and the martian surface. He's also the co-principal investigator for MarsQuest Online. "This is NASA's vision of 21st century exploration through the Internet, a shared experience of scientists, students and the public. The rovers' eyes are our eyes, and MarsQuest Online puts these eyes on your desktop."

MarsQuest Online enables the public, educators and students to gain a sense of what it's like to explore another world. According to Principal Investigator Daniel Barstow, MarsQuest Online was created "to provide the public with a highly engaging and interactive experience while learning about Mars by directly exploring it, just as the scientists do."

Students are able to learn more about the red planet by examining the most recent panoramic views of the two landing sites and the images of rocks and soil investigated by the instruments on the rovers' robotic arms. They can also follow the progress of the twin robotic field geologists as they navigate around the martian surface. Students will learn information about Mars and the search for water through an array of learning activities, such as an interactive feature that allows users to control 3-D virtual flyovers of prominent martian landform features. These activities support key elements of the National Science Education Standards, including core concepts of Earth and space science.

Adults will appreciate the site, with its daily updates and its intuitive point-and-click interface. Each image is visually organized so novice and expert users can easily navigate across the martian landscape through the eyes of the rovers. The site also provides current news about important scientific findings.

With support from the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., MarsQuest Online was built in close collaboration with NASA's Mars visualization team. It extends the power of NASA's very popular Mars Web site http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov to offer a more in-depth exploration environment for the images.

"The design of MarsQuest Online is based on extensive research on the most effective methods of using images and visualizations as tools by students and the general public," said Barstow, who also serves as director of the Technical Education Research Center (Terc) for Science Teaching and Learning in Cambridge, Mass. Barstow emphasized that "research findings show that most people can grasp concepts more quickly and intuitively by interacting with visual imagery than by simply reading text. With MarsQuest Online, students experience authentic science, venturing into the unknown, asking questions and pursuing answers."

MarsQuest Online is funded by the National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Division and developed through collaboration between the Technical Education Research Center, the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., and JPL.

The Technical Education Research Center is a non-profit educational research and development organization that specializes in inquiry-based science, math and technology education. The Space Science Institute is a science and education research and development organization that created the traveling MarsQuest museum exhibit associated with MarsQuest Online.

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Program for NASA and provides the technical expertise on Mars rovers and the rover imaging systems. Internet mirroring support for high- bandwidth use of this site is provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo., and the San Diego Supercomputing Center.

For more information on the Mars Exploration Rover mission visit: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov. To learn how to make your own 3-D images of Mars images, see http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/features/3d.cfm.

Natalie Godwin (818) 354-0850
JPL

David Shepard (617) 547-0430
Technical Education Research Center (Terc), Cambridge, Mass.

James Harold (720) 974-5858
Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

2004-67



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