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"Countdown to Mars"
Thursday, May 1, 2003
13:00-14:00 Eastern

Originally airing live on May 1, SpaceDay 2003, COUNTDOWN TO MARS remains a lively description of the development and journey to the launchpad of the twin rovers. Even after launch, the hands-on activities and online BIOs remain interesting background on the mission. Videotapes may be ordered directly from P2K.

Mars, the Red Planet, is named for the god of war. But, ironically, the exploration of Mars may help answer one of humanity's oldest and deepest questions: Are we alone? Did life ever begin on another planet in our solar system? Finding out if Mars ever offered habitable environments is an adventure in which the United States and Europe lead the world, and the science, engineering and human team-work required provide an inspiring example of the peaceful uses of high technology.

Program Description:
In 1997 NASA's Mars Pathfinder spacecraft touched down, and half a billion visitors rushed to check out related websites. In January 2004, 2 new rovers - much larger and more sophisticated - will land. But the adventure is already under way, with launches due in June and July 2003.

COUNTDOWN TO MARS, a one-hour interactive special designed to share the process of designing, building, launching, flying and landing the Mars Exploration Rovers with students, teachers, parents and the public aired live from 13:00-14:00 Eastern on Thursday May 1, 2003. During the program, hosted by Bill Nye the Science Guy at DePaul University in Chicago, and linked live to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, more than 250 youngsters worked with hands-on science activities simulating key mission milestones such as launch, landing and surface operations. They asked questions of NASA researchers such as Project Scientist Joy Crisp and engineer Eddie Tunstell on camera, but - during the program and for one after afterward (i.e. from 13:00-15:00 ET) - anyone, anywhere could send e-mail and get back individual answers, by going to the ON-AIR section of INTERACT on P2K's "To MARS with MER" website. Fast-paced documentary reports take viewers behind the scenes to meet the unusually diverse group of men and women whose passion and hard work underpin mission success.

May 1 was also the annual SpaceDay celebration - with events planned for many museums, science centers, planetariums and other sites around the nation, and COUNTDOWN TO MARS is an official SpaceDay event.

COUNTDOWN TO MARS was made possible in part by NSF, the National Science Foundation, and by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Appeared on participating PBS stations and is being re-run on NASA-TV (subject to pre-emption for late-breaking agency events.)

ON-AIR, which operates during and for one hour after each "To MARS with MER" broadcast, allows anyone, anywhere to send questions to researchers studying Mars and working on the Mars Exploration Rovers, and to get back individual answers in real-time on the day of the broadcasts. We've also provided some tips for how to make the most of this unique learning opportunity.


How to use ON-AIR
When the ON-AIR function is activated, usually one or two days before the live broadcast, this is what you do.

Click on this link, which will take you to a webpage. From the drop down menu, select the topic that best fits the topic of your question. For "To MARS with MER" that might be "Water on Mars", or "The Mars Exploration Rovers", or "Careers in space science."

In the blank message box, type in what you want to know.

Add your name - first name only - since the people answering your question like to address your answer directly to you. Before you do this check your school policy to see if it requires students to only use initials, first names only, or no name at all.

Be sure to enter your e-mail address, otherwise there's no way you're going to get an answer. Or, if you're submitting the question from school and do not have an individual e-mail address, enter your TEACHER's e-mail address. Be sure to ask him/her in advance.

Click on SEND/SUBMIT and sit back and wait for your individual answer, right back from one of the researchers and/or engineers working on the Mars Exploration Rovers!

Video Streaming
The "To MARS with MER" programs are also accessible as streaming video over the web, courtesy of NASA's Classroom of the Future. Soon after the broadcasts, the programs are also archived. Check back to this site, about 15 minutes in advance of each live broadcast, to link in to the video stream. (Many other sites also stream NASA-TV: we suggest you verify the working of your hardware and software in advance, especially if you plan to screen the program with groups of additional viewers.)

View "COUNTDOWN TO MARS" which aired on May 1, 2003.

How to Access Video Streaming
To watch the broadcast via video streaming you first need to make sure that you have the video streaming software on your computer. You can test to see if you have the software on your computer by going to and click on the NASA Headquarters link under NASA sites. If you have the software installed and a version which will allow you to watch the broadcast via RealPlayer a small window should open up and you should see whatever is currently on NASA TV loading.

If you do not have the software or your version is not working you need to download and install a copy of the software on your computer. There is a free version (not just the free trial) of the software available at You will find the link to download the software in the upper right hand corner.

On the day of the broadcast right before the program is scheduled to air visit our site and click on the video streaming link to view the webcast.

URL Post
To find out more about the people, places and processes you'll see in the videos, use URL POST which provides links to additional resources, directly related to the program. This allows you to combine the immediacy and drama of broadcast video with the depth of additional information available online.

URL Post for "Countdown to Mars".

COUNTDOWN TO MARS was made possible in part by NSF, the National Science Foundation, and by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.