Feature

Marsapalooza: An Out-of-This-World "Opportunity" to Inspire the Next Generation of Explorers
11.20.03
Marsapalooza Logo
Marsapalooza Logo
Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rovers set to touch down on the red planet in January, were not named by NASA officials, astronauts, or scientists.

They were named by Sofi Collis, a third-grader from Arizona and a student not unlike many others in the country whom NASA hopes to reach through the Marsapalooza tour.

One essential goal of the Marsapalooza initiative, the product of a unique partnership involving NASA, the National Science Foundation, Passport to Knowledge, and several museums, planetariums, and science centers across the country, is to inspire the next generation of explorers. How does a five-city rock concert-style tour of Mars Exploration Rovers mission scientists and engineers (the "M-Team") accomplish this?

By inviting nearly 10,000 students nationwide to interact with the M-Team and engage in hands-on activities and demonstrations related to the science of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission.

Dr. Huan Ngo, science lab teacher and NASA Explorer Schools team leader at Sheridan Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut, believes that Marsapalooza's value lies in its interactive, beyond-the-classroom approach. Many students from Sheridan will be in attendance at the tour's kickoff in New York City on December 2 at the American Museum of Natural History.

"We can only do so much in our own school," said Dr. Ngo. "I think these kinds of events are great for getting the students excited [about math and science]. Once they're excited, the next step is to figure out how to channel their excitement and inspiration to improve math and science education." The Marsapalooza initiative is certainly a step in that direction.

Artist's concept of a Mars smart lander
Mars Smart Lander
Dr. Ngo added that Marsapalooza "will bring star status to scientists and engineers". The Mars Exploration Rovers mission is already famous on the Sheridan campus -- the theme for the upcoming school year will be "Mars", and students have already begun painting Mars-themed wall murals.

Sheridan Middle School is only one of many schools participating in the tour. In each of the cities -- New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles -- thousands of students will come to Marsapalooza venues to learn firsthand what the Mars Exploration Rovers mission is about. They will also get a chance to meet face-to-face with the youthful M-Team and learn that scientists and engineers are not only smart -- they are also pretty cool.

John Templin, a research and experimentation teacher for 10th grade students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, expressed great enthusiasm about Marsapalooza. "For the students that I have, even though they might already be aware of planetary exploration, they don't have that broad a view of it. They may not see the whole picture from a real-life point of view," commented Templin. Which is why, he explained, an initiative such as Marsapalooza is such a valuable supplement to classroom education.

Students in Templin's class are currently working on a project called "Mission: Possible", for which they are designing and building rovers of their own. Their own projects will be completed in December, just in time to see what happens in January, when the real Rovers are scheduled to land on Mars.

Several Marsapalooza events will be open to the public, including an evening event on December 3 at George Washington University in Washington and events at Adler Planetarium in Chicago on December 4 and the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver on December 6.

Thanks to Marsapalooza, students from all over the country will learn firsthand that science is cool -- and that Mars rocks!

To find out more about Marsapalooza, please go to:

Not Your Typical "Rock" Tour
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NASA's M-Team
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