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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the developer, PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE, and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.


Saturday, January 17, 2004

Some of the scientists and engineers behind the successful landing of NASA's "Spirit" spacecraft on Mars describe the rover's first days on the Red Planet, share amazing new images, and respond to questions from young people at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The adventure of exploring an alien planet...
The amazing engineering that successfully landed "Spirit" on Mars, and readied it to begin to rove the surface in search of evidence of water and places that may have been hospitable for life...
The joy and excitement of the young and diverse Mars Exploration Rover team in their achievements to date. And the journey is just beginning...

Program description
At about 8:35 p.m. in the evening of Sunday January 3, 2004, Pacific Time, NASA’s "Spirit" spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour.

Within minutes, if all goes well, an intricate series of events involving a parachute, retro-rockets, and airbags will bring it to a halt on the surface. Then, in slow and careful steps which spacecraft engineers liken to "reverse origami", a sophisticated robotic field geologist - in the form of a 6-wheeled rover - will unfold, deploying high-resolution cameras and powerful scientific instruments. That process may take as long as 10 "sols" (as the day of 24 hours and 39 minutes is known on Mars.)

On Saturday January 17, from 3-4 p.m. Eastern, PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE presented "FIRST LOOK", hosted by Bill Nye The Science Guy, an hour-long interactive program originated live from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA (home base for the rover mission), and from several action-packed locations in the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston.

Premiering just a few days after "Spirit" is expected to begin roving around the Red Planet, the program may well provide a literal "first look" at astonishing new vistas and science data "just in" from Mars.

On camera at JPL and commenting on the first new pictures and observations was lead Science Investigator, Steve Squyres, and Cathy Weitz, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Program Scientist. Entry, Descent and Landing engineer, Wayne Lee, provided a play-by-play of "Spirit's" exciting but risk-filled landing, and looked ahead to "Opportunity's" arrival on January 24th. Mechanical engineer Kobie Boykins explained the challenges of deploying the solar panels and science instruments, and the difficult task of getting off the lander petals and safely onto the Martian surface. Science team member Zoe Learner described results from the first experiments using the cameras and the rover's sophisticated sensors. Stephenie Lievense hosts at JPL.

In Houston, NASA's director of Solar System Exploration and head of the Mars Exploration Program, Orlando Figueroa, shared the story and science of "Spirit" and its companion spacecraft, "Opportunity", with more than 3,000 youngsters and their families gathered at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a day-long Mars Festival, and commented on camera throughout the live broadcast.

HMNS's Carolyn Sumners and student co-hosts roamed the Museum alongside guests engaged in egg-drops from the 15-meter high roof (exactly paralleling the rover's landing), "Red Planet Treasure Hunts", story-telling, robot races, and online adventures. Space scientists, educators and Student-Ambassadors from NASA's Johnson Space Center, the University of Houston-Downtown, and other partners facilitated inquiry-based hands-on activities, and shared information related to the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

Easy-to-implement instructions and materials lists will allow any other museum, planetarium, science center, school or home site to participate. Also linked live to the Museum and the broadcast via Internet voice and video was a parallel Mars Festival at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Young people have an official role in this Mars mission via 2 unique opportunities: the ATHENA Student Intern Program (Cornell/NASA), and "Red Rover Goes to Mars" (The Planetary Society/LEGO/NASA.) Mini-documentaries will show youngsters from Buffalo, NY, and upstate Pennsylvania, as well as TPS "Student Astronauts" from Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the USA, at work alongside the rover mission scientists who serve as their mentors.

In Houston, at the sundial fountain close to the Museum entrance, Bill Nye demonstrated how to make and use a sundial just like the ones on "Spirit" and "Opportunity" which are designed to help calibrate the twin rovers' Pancam imagers, and which the student investigators will be analyzing. (Instructions for making sundials will be accessible online.)

FIRST LOOK ends with a coordinated "landing" on Mars, as 11 networked Challenger Centers across America - as well as in Leicester, England, home base for Mars Express and Beagle 2—touch down on the Red Planet, looking ahead to the day when some of the program participants or viewers may be the first human explorers to reach Mars!

The fast-paced program, formatted magazine style to allow re-use on tape and in re-runs, goes beyond the shorter news stories that will report on "Spirit’s" landing, as well as featuring real-time interaction between youngsters and the diverse teams of men and women who have built, launched, flown, and now are beginning to operate the rovers on the Martian surface. P2K’s website will link to the best of NASA and other resources, and invite viewers to explore Mars and the rover mission in greater depth, online.

Websites providing additional information:

The ongoing "To Mars with MER" project is made possible by major support from NSF, the National Science Foundation, and by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. FIRST LOOK is additionally supported by the NASA JPL Mars Education and Public Outreach program, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the University of Houston-Downtown, Texas Southern University, NASA Johnson Space Center, the Raul Yzaguirre School for Success (Houston), the Minority University Initiative, Nye Labs, The Planetary Society, LEGO, Cornell University’s ATHENA program, and KUHT, PBS Houston.

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 mission, and to get back individual answers in real-time on the day of the broadcasts.

ON-AIR FAQ from the Broadcast

PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE is very grateful to Steve Collins, Attitude Control, Rob Landis, Systems Engineer, Eddie Tunstel, Senior Robotics Engineer, Terry Wysocky, System Engineer Senior, Todd Barber, Propulsion Engineer, Paulo Souza, PDL Mossbauer, Mike Pauken, Thermal Engineer, Sheri Klug, Mars Space Flight Facility, Arizona State University, Janice Bishop, SETI Institute P.I., NASA Ames Research Center, Diane Bollen, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Cornell University for generously contributing their time and knowledge to support this unique service.

Video Streaming
Webcast of Broadcast
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.

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.

FIRST LOOK was made possible in part by NSF, the National Science Foundation, and by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.