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China, U.S. students explore Mars at ASU

January 23, 2008

In the first-ever program of its kind, joint teams of U.S. and Chinese high school students will start exploring Mars firsthand at ASU.

Beginning Jan. 27 and running for nine days, 16 students drawn from all across China will meet with eight equally skilled students from Nogales (Ariz.) High School. Together, the space-minded students will take part in the China Youth Space Academy at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility.

Mars is a natural focus because ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is an international leader in space science, with instruments operating in orbit and on the surface of Mars.

Each student team, consisting of U.S. and Chinese students, will decide on a Mars geological problem to solve. The teams then will command the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which is in orbit around the Red Planet, to take images and data to solve the problems.

In the final step, the student teams will analyze their data and report on their findings, just as working scientists do.

“The Space Academy program was created to excite high school students from the United States and China about careers in space science and engineering,” says Jennie Si, a professor of electrical engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Si also is director of ASU’s China initiatives and special projects in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs.

The Chinese students were chosen through an academic challenge joint partnership between ASU, the Chinese government-run Web site and Flying Spirit International Ad (Beijing) Co.

More than 12,000 students registered to take an online test that evaluated the students’ knowledge of the solar system and space exploration. Forty semifinalists then competed in November for two days to produce the 16 winners.

Rick Shangraw, ASU’s vice president for research and economic affairs, led a delegation of five ASU faculty and staff members to serve as judges for the competitions, which took place in Beijing.

The online test and the final competition, which included designing a human outpost on Mars, were developed by ASU staff members in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The competition questions and challenges reflected the combined science and engineering focus of the school.

“The Chinese students who entered the Space Academy competition were all very impressive,” says Philip Christensen, Regents’ Professor of Geological Sciences and director of ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility.

Christensen also is the designer of the instrument on Mars Odyssey that the student teams will use to study Mars. During the final round of competition in Beijing, Nov. 17-18, Christensen was one of the judges.

For their team projects at ASU, all the students will be working under Christensen’s guidance.

The Nogales students also have a long space exploration pedigree.

“Students from this high school have taught NASA administrators and other government officials how to take Mars images,” says Brian Grigsby, director of ASU’s Mars Education Program. “The Nogales students have also organized space-related events in their city, and they have helped teach other students throughout the area about space exploration and science.”

The China Youth Space Academy is one of the many ways ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is educating the next generation of space explorers. The school aims to fuse the study of science with engineering and send its graduates on career paths to expand knowledge of Earth, the solar system and the universe.

“The China Youth Space Academy will carve a new path in cross-cultural learning,” Si says. “ASU is committed to finding and developing brilliant minds from around the country and the world.”

Robert Burnham,
(480) 458-8207
Mars Space Flight Facility