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Distance Bridged by Interest in Space Exploration
June 16, 2010

Rover used in Exploration Uplink Exploration Uplink participants maneuvered rovers through the lunar environment via the Internet.
Photo Credit: NASA
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Last month, the distance between two continents was narrowed when space enthusiasts from the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa, participated in a rover exercise with NASA's Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Although the two organizations are more than 10,000 miles and nine time zones apart, space enthusiasts in Cape Town were able to pilot the robotic rovers located in California via the Internet with only a joystick and a laptop.

The participants-a mixture of amateur astronomers, students, scientists and engineers-took turns maneuvering the rovers through the lunar environment consisting of volcanic rocks and simulated lunar regolith (moon dirt).

"This is a good start to what we hope will be a conversation about broadening the cooperation between the Lunar Science Institute and the South African scientific and educational community," said Peter Martinez, director of the SAAO and interim director of South Africa's Space Agency.

"We are very excited about our developing relationship with South Africa," said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. "Exploration Uplink is a pathfinder that engages and connects students and the public in South Africa with NASA, and serves as an important first step in our long-term relationship with South Africa's public and science community."

The exercise was part of an outreach project called Exploration Uplink, which was designed to bring hands-on space exploration experience to classrooms and informal education venues. Exploration Uplink was created to reach young students and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics because studies show that by the time students reach high school, they've already made up their minds about their career path.

Exploration Uplink is a partnership between the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), NASA Spaceward Bound, the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, the NASA Ames Education Office and the California Space Authority (CSA).

"CSA is proud to partner with NASA in their international outreach to students in South Africa. Our regolith stimulant test bed is an excellent resource for these types of educational collaborative opportunities, and we look forward to continued engagement with NASA and the Lunar Science Institute in bringing Exploration Uplink into the hands of students everywhere," said Andrea Seastrand, executive director for the California Space Authority.

For more information about NLSI, visit:


For more information about NASA Spaceward Bound, visit:


For more information about the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, visit:


For more information about the California Space Authority, visit:


For more information about the South African Astronomical Observatory, visit:

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