Arizona State University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, are creating a new NASA facility that will be used by scientists and students studying Mars. ASU and JPL will jointly fund the facility, with JPL providing $1.45 million in initial funding.
The ASU Planetary Imaging Facility and Advanced Training Institute (PIF-ATI) is an expansion of a facility originally planned to support the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a thermal infrared camera system that will fly on the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft and is directed by ASU Geological Sciences Professor Philip Christensen. According to NASA and ASU scientists, the facility is "a new model" for planetary research projects that will allow greater instrument and data access to scientists outside the project, as well as to university students and even to 5th through 12th grade educators and their students. Also in the planning stages is a graduate and undergraduate program where entry-level personnel can be trained in spacecraft operations and maintenance.
"This is a new and creative way of looking at doing planetary research, and we hope it will open a number of doors," said Jonathan Fink, ASU Vice Provost for Research. "Among other things, this will allow for the first time middle school and high school students to participate directly in the scientific exploration of another planet."
"At NASA and JPL we are looking for new ways to share the adventure of exploring Mars. This new facility is a great way of opening up opportunities for scientists and kids to participate in the excitement of our new Mars program," said Dr. Firouz Naderi, Mars Program manager at JPL.
The facility will offer a new process whereby scientists outside the instrument team can apply to NASA with specific research requests and also have free access to the archive of collected data. It will also allocate a significant fraction of the instrument's use to 5th through 12th grade student use. Classes will submit brief proposals to take pictures of specific regions of Mars, explaining the scientific questions that they would like to answer with the data. They will then have the opportunity to come to ASU to participate in acquiring the image, analyze the data they receive and present their findings. It is expected that approximately 150 classes will be able to participate over the course of a year, with at least one school from every state sending representative students to campus to participate in capturing their requested image and data.
"The student imaging facility is a cool idea -- something that I always thought would be really neat to do when I was a kid," said Christensen, the project's principal investigator. "We talked to a lot of teachers, and one of the things that really excited them was the thought that 'Wow, my class could actually be actively involved in exploring Mars rather than just standing on the outside watching!'
"THEMIS is going to take tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand, images. Making some fraction of those opportunities available to junior high and high school kids really only involves a tiny fraction of the data, but could have an incredible impact on education and student interest."
ASU and JPL will provide the expertise, curricular support and equipment required by the new educational program. ASU's longstanding Mars K-12 Outreach Program has already developed a large library of curricular materials and has developed a significant national network of school and educator contacts through its extensive schedule of outreach activities in planetary science.
"If we could reach a couple of hundred schools around the country with this, it could have a significant effect. It will give the kids a sense that science is about participating and exploring and discovering ... it's not about going to a museum and seeing things hanging on the wall. Science is about actually doing it yourself," said Christensen.
Christensen also plans to allow similar opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students interested in doing Mars research, with the depth of support and student involvement varying depending on the background and knowledge level of the student. The new facility plans to develop a program for undergraduate and graduate students aimed at providing training in operating spacecraft for planetary missions. Both engineering and science students will have the opportunity to receive training through both the real-time health monitoring of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and the sequencing of the Thermal Emission Spectrometer and THEMIS instruments, as well as through virtual technology simulations.
The 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 7, 2001. If the launch is on schedule, the orbiter will arrive at Mars on October 20, 2001.
The new research facility is expected to be completed in July 2001. ASU is notifying schools about opportunities for participation, with the first student participation in research expected in late 2001 or early 2002. Schools can contact Sheri Klug, ASU K-12 Mars Outreach Program director, for more information at 480-727-6495.
News Media ContactAt JPL, Mary Hardin (818) 354-0344
At ASU, James Hathaway (480) 965-6375