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August 2, 2012
RELEASE J12-013
Touch a Piece of Mars Beginning Aug. 5 at Space Center Houston

HOUSTON - You can touch a piece of Mars at Space Center Houston. For the first time in the U.S., visitors can touch a piece of the Red Planet – though the rocks on Mars aren't red, only the dust.

The official unveiling of the Martian touchstone will take place during the "Curiosity: Seven Minutes of Terror" event celebrating the 12:31 a.m. CDT Monday, Aug. 6, landing of the Mars Science Lander Curiosity rover.

The Space Center Houston event opens at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5, with Mars-themed live broadcasts, astronaut autographs, special activities and a pancake breakfast, through 2 a.m. Monday. Guest speakers from Johnson Space Center will include astronauts Stan Love and Mario Runco, and Mars exploration experts Carl Allen and John Connolly.

The rock at Space Center Houston is the only Martian sample the public can touch, and is a piece from the EETA 79001 Martian meteorite found in the Antarctic in 1980. Part of the Antarctic meteorite collection at JSC, the sample is about 180 million years old – very young on the solar system scale – and is believed to have been thrown from Mars into space approximately 600,000 years ago. At 17.4 pounds, the original rock is one of the largest Mars meteorites ever found.

The Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office at JSC provided the sample. The office, part of the center's Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate, is responsible for the curation of extraterrestrial samples from NASA's past and future sample return missions including the preservation, preparation and distribution of samples from the moon, asteroids, comets, the solar wind and the planet Mars.

Curiosity's two-year mission serves as a precursor to NASA's planned human missions to Mars in the 2030s. The Gale Crater landing area, near the planet's equator, is considered as one of the most favorable for evidence of microbial life.

The historic Mars Science Laboratory mission was launched in November 2011.

Space Center Houston is the official Visitors Center of NASA's Johnson Space Center. For more information, visit:

http://spacecenter.org/MarsLanding.html

For more information on the Mars landing, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

For information on meteorite EETA 79001, visit:

http://curator.jsc.nasa.gov/antmet/samples/petdes.cfm?sample=EET79001

http://curator.jsc.nasa.gov/antmet/mmc/79001.pdf

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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Susan Anderson
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111

Jack Moore
Space Center Houston
281-244-2137

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