PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM presents new information and current perspectives on our cosmic neighborhood unlike those found in most textbooks. It re-visits concepts such as gravity, the electromagnetic spectrum, or the interaction of a planet's size and atmosphere, several times throughout the series, resulting in a comprehensive and comprehensible portrait of Earth and its neighbors. It offers secondary school teachers and students a view of the solar system as a place of dynamic change. The Sun varies over its 11-year cycle. A moon like Jupiter's Io has a surface more volcanically active than anywhere else we know. And our home planet Earth is also beginning to be understood as a place of global change, with many of its features and processes (NSES standards 1 and 2) best understood by comparing it with its neighbors. By including information about organisms which live in extreme environments on Earth, such as in hot vents at the bottom of the ocean or in the cold ice of the South Pole, PTSOLAR broadens the definition of what may prove to be habitable zones on other worlds. Such discoveries, made only in the past decade or two, show students that science is very much an ongoing process, not something which stopped with Einstein or even Neal Armstrong.

In the videos, students see recent imagery from the NEAR mission to asteroid 433 Eros, new pictures from Mars Global Surveyor showing signs of possible liquid water on the Red Planet, some of the latest data on the search for solar systems beyond our own, detailed and dynamic close-ups of the Sun's visible surface, and computer animation of new missions set to return even more astonishing information in coming years. You'll not find information and imagery as fresh as this in any other package of learning materials. (Speaking of which, 4 new moons of Saturn have just been announced, reminding us that the PTSOLAR website is the place to see how this IG, the videos and other materials can be updated in the coming months and years!)

To put a human face on the science and to help students appreciate the essential concepts and the latest data, we're very pleased to have had the cooperation of some of America's leading space scientists, many of whom were taped on location at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA (managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology), and other observatories and research institutes. Several participants serve as Project Scientists for the missions which have revolutionized our understanding of the solar system. Torrence Johnson is Project Scientist for the Galileo mission to Jupiter and its moons, Matt Golombek for the Pathfinder mission to Mars, and Andy Cheng holds the same position on the NEAR asteroid mission. Others, such as JPL's Claudia Alexander, are Project Scientists for future missions, such as the international Rosetta comet mission. Together with Mars mission designer Wayne Lee and SETI Institute and Stanford University professor, Chris Chyba, these scientists function as on-camera Mentors, trusted voices who reappear throughout the series.

The new science and the enthusiastic scientists all serve to illuminate key science principles which every student must learn. The spectrum, convection and radiation, the interplay of electricity and magnetism, and important principles of engineering and design become real, both on screen and in applications, through Hands-On Activities.

As we said, studying the solar system is an ongoing process of discovery. Information changes very quickly: please use the PASSPORT TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM website as your one-click source for all the latest news. Please also ignore all URLs, phone numbers and addresses you may find in the four printed Teacher's Guides. Many of them are no longer current.

If you have questions, submit them to or subscribe, via the website, to the DISCUSS-SOLARSYSTEM mail list. An experienced classroom educator will get right back to you with answers.

Good luck with implementing this project. We hope to hear of your success in exciting students about concepts that will help them academically, and with exposing them to the ongoing adventure that is our exploration of the solar system.

Geoff Haines-Stiles, Project Director
Erna Akuginow, Executive in Charge
Tim McCollum, Activities Consultant
Eileen Bendixsen, P2K Online Moderator
Summer 2000