So what's the best reason to learn about Mars?
According to Dr. Jim Rice, exploration assures that humanity will continue to thrive -- even if not on Earth.
Dr. Rice is an astrogeologist (he studies rocks -- on other planets!) and member of the "M-Team", a group of youthful NASA Mars mission scientists and engineers on the Marsapalooza tour who will visit five cities across the country this week.
"Exploration is the life blood of a civilization," said Dr. Rice. "It provides new frontiers and challenges that stimulate both its people and technology. Exploration is crucial for a civilization's survival. Civilizations that cease to explore expire."
That is why NASA, the National Science Foundation, Passport to Knowledge, and several museums, science centers, and planetaria nationwide have collaborated to create Marsapalooza, a special initiative designed to reach out to students in underserved communities, to present the M-Team as role models to inspire the next generation of explorers, and to raise public literacy about the Mars Exploration Rover mission.
Marsapalooza, designed to imitate a rock concert-style tour, is one of many innovative initiatives created to educate students and the public about Mars. Among other Mars education programs is the NASA Student Involvement Program (NSIP). One cool NSIP project students can participate in is the "Design a Mission to Mars" competition, which gives students the opportunity to think about what they would like to explore in space and to design their own space exploration mission.
"It was a great experience I'll never forget," said Whitney, a former Arkansas high school student and NSIP participant. "The NSIP program has really opened my eyes to different job options. Who knows, maybe one day I may work for NASA!"
"Imagine Mars" is another Mars education program aimed at getting students interested in science and exploration. As part of the Imagine Mars Project, students explore their own community and decide which arts, scientific and cultural elements would be important on Mars. Then they develop their ideal community from an inter-disciplinary perspective of arts, sciences and technology.
"It's a unique opportunity because it involves looking at science, math, technology and the arts to see how those could combine to build a settlement on Mars," commented Denise Reed, a teacher from Georgia. Imagine Mars is geared toward students in grades K-8.
The Mars Student Imaging Project, sponsored in partnership with Arizona State University and the THEMIS camera team on the Mars Odyssey orbiter, enables students to take their own pictures of Mars and analyze their results. These students work closely with Mars scientists, and are among the first humans on Earth to see these images of the red planet and explore their meaning.
Members of Marsapalooza's M-Team want to express to young people that Mars education is important. Zoe Learner, the youngest member of the M-Team, believes that exploring Mars is vital because compared to Earth, it is "still a mystery".
"Though Mars seems very different from Earth, it is still more like Earth than any other planet in [the solar] system," explained Zoe. "There's something to learn about our own home by studying Mars."
Through Marsapalooza, NASA and its partners hope to educate students across the country and prove to them that Mars really does "rock".
The tour kicks off in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History on December 2.
For more information about Marsapalooza, please visit:
Mars Rocks with Marsapalooza!
For information about other Mars education programs, please go to:
Robotics Education Project
MARSAPALOOZA was conceived and coordinated by PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE, and made possible by major funding from the National Science Foundation, NSF. Additional support comes from NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA/California Institute of Technology) and the NASA JPL Mars Public Engagement Office.