NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Students from around the country will have the opportunity to study the solar system, galaxies and quasars with a radio telescope which NASA will operate in collaboration with a California school district.

A 34-meter-diameter (112-foot) dish antenna at Goldstone, CA, which was used to track deep space missions for more than three decades before it was decommissioned in 1996, will be remotely controlled by students and educators at the Apple Valley Unified School District's science and Technology Center in Apple Valley, CA. The Center is 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from Goldstone.

NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin and Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) were on hand today (Oct. 30) for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the school district. JPL manages NASA's Deep Space Network, a worldwide network of giant antenna dishes used to track spacecraft and make radio astronomy studies.

"This collaboration is a great example of taking a NASA resource and putting it into the hands of young people," said Dr. Michael J. Klein, project manager at JPL.

According to Rick Piercy, director of the Apple Valley Science and Technology Center, "Students will be introduced to a new world of exploration as they study the sky at wavelengths far beyond the tiny slice of wavelengths that human vision can detect."

Beginning in 1997, the giant antenna dish will be used initially by students in Apple Valley to study deep space objects such as distant galaxies and quasars. By the end of the decade, the center plans to make the facility available to classrooms across the nation via remote control linkups over the Internet.

In addition to studying objects at the outer edges of the known universe, students will be able to tune in to more local phenomena, such as natural radio emissions from the giant planet Jupiter within the solar system.

"Our vision in visible light is extremely limited," said Piercy. "With a radio telescope astronomers can study the sky over a span of wavelengths that we cannot see".

Built in 1964, the giant, steerable antenna was used to track such missions at NASA's Lunar Orbiters as well as solar system exploration spacecraft including Mariners, Pioneers, Viking, Voyager, Magellan and Galileo. Its function in spacecraft tracking is being taken over by newer antennas at the desert complex.

Under the memorandum of understanding, the Apple Valley Science and Technology Center will oversee telescope operations and provide technical support to students and teachers. JPL will continue to maintain the antenna dish, train a cadre of Apple Valley volunteers on telescope operations and participate in development of the interactive science curriculum.

"The research that the students will be doing is real, and discoveries are likely," said Klein. "In addition, students will be exposed to scientific methodology -- the way that scientists and engineers work."

JPL manages the Deep Space Network for NASA's Office of Space Flight, Washington, DC.


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