Students to Remotely Control Russian Mars Rover in Desert Tests

From: (NASA HQ Public Affairs Office) (by way of Jan Wee <>)
Subject: Students to Remotely Control Russian Mars Rover in Desert Tests
Date: Mon, 04 Nov 1996 07:33:11 -0600

Dear discuss-lfm members,

This NASA Press Release just arrived.  Mansel Nelson, PTK Advocate from Arizona,
is a lead eduator on this project.  Mansel's Journal is featured in our
last updates-lfm newsletter and images and background journals will be
available for all to access.  

Mansel's own web's are:  

Thanks to Mansel for sharing this very unique experience!

Jan Wee

Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                November 1, 1996
(Phone:  202/358-1753)

Mike Mewhinney
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA
(Phone:  415/604-3937)

RELEASE:  96-223


     A group of young students will take a virtual trip to 
Mars this month when they remotely steer a Russian-built 
robotic rover through a barren Arizona desert from their classrooms.  

     The experiment is one of several NASA activities 
designed to develop the next generation of planetary rovers 
that will explore Mars early next century.  The first Mars 
rover, aboard NASA's Mars Pathfinder lander mission, is due 
for launch on December 2.

     Using their computers and the Internet, the students 
will control the rover as it navigates through a sparsely-
vegetated area during a NASA field test to simulate future 
robotic exploration of the red planet.  The test site is 
located near Flagstaff on a Navajo Indian reservation 
adjacent to U.S. Highway 160.  Students in Tuba City schools 
will steer the robotic vehicle Nov. 1 and again on Nov. 12.

     Scientists consider the site to be an excellent analog 
for Martian terrain.  The fact that the site is located on a 
Navajo Indian reservation makes it even more special to the 
science team, according to project leader Dr. Carol Stoker, a 
planetary scientist from NASA's Ames Research Center, 
Mountain View, CA.

     "Beyond the fact that it's a good Mars analog, a big 
motivator for us in choosing this site was to give a 
community that is not extensively involved in space 
exploration a first-hand, up close and personal kind of 
experience with NASA scientists in the field," Stoker said. 

     "You'd think that going out into the middle of a desert, 
people there would not necessarily be interested in space 
exploration," Stoker added.  "However, what I found is that 
there is a tremendous amount of excitement about space 
travel.  It was just like I'd walked into the next building 
back at Ames and was talking to a bunch of rocket 

     "Space travel is kind of a religious, mythical 
experience for the Navajo people," said Emmit Kerley, 
community services coordinator for the Tuba City Chapter of 
the Navajo Nation.  "In Navajo mythology, we believe that we 
came down from the stars and that it is our destiny to return 
to the stars." 

     During the field tests from Nov. 4-9, scientists will 
conduct a six-day Mars science mission simulation using the 
Marsokhod.  The Russian-built robotic vehicle is equipped 
with American avionics, computers and science instruments.

     The Marsokhod, or Mars rover, features six titanium 
wheels, a robotic arm to pick up rock and sediment samples 
and stereo video cameras mounted on a pan and tilt platform 
to transmit live images of the field test via satellite back 
to scientists at Ames.  Scientists at Ames will control the 
Marsokhod using a Virtual Environment Vehicle Interface 
(VEVI) rover control software.  Scientists will communicate 
with the rover using a portable satellite communication 
antenna at the test site. 

     "We're using virtual reality as a substitute for live 
video because of the time delay in radio communications 
between Mars and Earth," Stoker said.  "A virtual reality 
model shows where you are in the terrain and gives you a 
sense of presence in that space you don't have because of the 
long time delay." 

     In addition to Stoker, the six-member field team 
includes Dr. Michael Sims, Daryl Rasmussen, Dan Christian and 
Jeff Moore, all from Ames, and Ron Greeley of Arizona State 
University.  On Nov. 12, the scientists will conduct another 
educational outreach activity involving students from several 
Arizona schools remotely controlling the Marsokhod using 
their classroom computers.  Persons wishing to access the 
Internet web site for the field tests may visit the following URL: 


     Approximately 200 students from 10-15 schools in the 
Tuba City, AZ, area have been invited to participate in the 
Mars rover activity on Nov. 1.  Schools include Greyhills 
Academy High School, Tuba City High School, Tuba City Junior 
High School, Tuba City Boarding School (K-8), and Eagles Nest 
Intermediate School all of Tuba City; Toneala Elementary 
School; Kayenta High School, Kayenta; Moenkopi Day School; 
Hopi Junior and Senior High School located on the Hopi 
Reservation in Keams Canyon, and Shiprock High School, 
Shiprock, AZ.  The Institute for Native Americans at Northern 
Arizona University and the Rural Systemic Initiative, which 
is funded by the National Science Foundation, helped arrange 
the Mars field test on the Navajo Reservation and coordinate 
the student activities. 

     Russian engineers from the Lavochkin Association in 
Moscow and several Navajo students will participate in this 
month's desert field test by working with the NASA scientists 
in the remote "mission control station" located at Ames.  The 
technology being tested may be used in a proposed joint 
Russian-American mission called "Mars Together," tentatively 
scheduled for launch by the Russians in the year 2001.