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Jonas Dino                                                                                                      Oct. 10, 2003

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-5612 or 650/604-9000




As five spacecraft from countries around this world rapidly approach Mars, NASA educators are challenging students to learn about the 'red planet' and design creatures that could survive in the harsh Martian environment.

On Oct. 13, NASA Quest at NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley, will launch the 'Design-a-Martian Challenge.' NASA Quest is an educational Web site dedicated to bringing the NASA experience to K-12 students. The seven-week challenge builds upon the growing excitement about the red planet, and provides students an opportunity to interact with NASA Mars experts and other students from around the world.

"The Design-a-Martian Challenge is a great opportunity to have students actively participate in one of the greatest scientific endeavors in recent history," said Donald James, education director at NASA Ames. "With the knowledge gained from the challenge, the students will be Mars experts within their families and classrooms when the twin Mars Exploration Rovers land on Mars at the beginning of 2004."

During the first few weeks of the challenge, students can use NASA's Astro-Venture, a Web site that helps students understand what makes a planet habitable, to research the conditions needed by humans to survive on Earth so they can apply that knowledge to Mars. As the students gain a better understanding of the planet, they can begin designing creatures that could survive punishing sand storms, cold temperatures and the other harsh conditions on Mars.

During the challenge, students will be able to interact with NASA scientists to talk about Mars, NASA's missions to the red planet, and their Martian creature designs. Two chats, via the Internet, are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 29 and Thursday, Nov. 20. Each chat will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PDT.

"As NASA scientists, we are always looking to encourage students to take an active interest in science and exploration," said Geoff Briggs, scientific director of NASA's Center for Mars Exploration. "The Design-a-Martian outreach program builds upon the interest generated by the recent close opposition (alignment) of Earth and Mars and upon the excitement of the up-coming Mars landings. It's a great way to spark students' interest."

Final Martian creature designs are due by November 26. The Design-a-Martian Challenge will conclude with a Web cast on December 3. During the Web cast, NASA scientists will update the students with the latest on Mars research, the progress of the Mars Rovers, and provide final feedback on the student's Martian creature designs.

For more information about the Design-a-Martian Challenge on the Internet, visit:

For more information about NASA Quest on the Internet, visit:

For more information about the Astro-Venture Web site, visit:

For information about NASA's Education programs on the Internet, visit:

For information about NASA on the Internet, visit:



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