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"To MARS with MER"

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of an ongoing program of exploration which hopes to help answer one of humanity's oldest and deepest questions: is Earth the only place in our solar system where Life exists? Are there other worlds which have, or once had, environments which might sustain life? It's also likely that some of the cutting-edge engineering which make this fundamental science possible will have consequences down here on Earth, through innovations which turn out to be relevant to our increasingly high tech civilization.

But this rover mission also offers another and even more immediate benefit: it provides young Americans with powerful examples of dynamic and engaging young men and women using science, math, engineering and technology (what NSF calls "STEM") in ways that are personally and professionally rewarding. Recent studies have shown that America faces a crisis, lacking sufficient youngsters entering the science and technology pipeline. More than 1/3 of aerospace workers are within 5 years of retirement! In the coming decades, the United States will need many more young people, especially women and otherwise underserved minorities, to enter the STEM workforce to meet the nation's need for home-grown talent. That's what lay behind P2K's "Marsapalooza" tour, which took six MER scientists and engineers on the road in early December 2003, to meet youngsters, teachers, parents and the general public in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Denver and LA. It was a high-energy, fast-paced tour, which had led someone to come up with the nickname "Marsapalooza", referring to the popular progressive rock tour which has traveled America in recent years. P2K documented many of the public presentations on camera: stay tuned for information about the availability of a video documentary featuring the public highlights, both on stage, in front of hundreds of excited visitors, and behind the scenes - in airport waiting rooms, on trains, in cabs and catching cat naps in the midst of the whirlwind tour. In the meantime, here are the press releases, feature stories, and M-Team biographies that accompanied "Marsapalooza." P2K sincerely thanks all the members of the "M-Team" - Deborah Bass, Shonte Wright, Zoe Learner, Kobie Boykins, Jim Rice and Adam Steltzner - and our collaborators at NSF, NASA and JPL who helped make it all possible. One engineering student at CCNY, New York, thanked Adam, Shonte and Jim for their presentation, and said "See you in 10 years!" Another younger student was amazed that Zoe (who sports a punky red-dyed haircut) didn't have "scientist hair." These and other comments, both serious and light-hearted, convince us "Marsapalooza" met at least some of its key objectives. We hope some of the 10,000 or more youngsters encountered face-to-face will follow the events of early 2004 with intense interest, and personal commitment, and perhaps participate in some of the exciting space missions of the future.