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Mars in their sights

February 01, 2008

U.S. and Chinese students are taking aim at the Red Planet using an ASU-designed camera on a Mars-orbiting spacecraft.

The target lies millions of miles away, but for the 22 high school students in the first-ever China Youth Space Academy, Mars is square in their sights.

Fifteen high school students from China are at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility, collaborating with seven students from Nogales (Ariz.) High School. Their goal: to explore Mars firsthand using a multiple-wavelength camera designed at ASU that’s orbiting Mars on NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

The Chinese students, who come from all over China, are the winners of a nationwide academic competition. The China Youth Space Academy is co-sponsored by ASU, the official Chinese government Web site, and Flying Spirit International Ad (Beijing) Co. Ltd. (ShangTuoZhiYang).

The Nogales students were picked for their keen interest and experience in working with the Mars student-imaging program. They have organized space-related events in their city and have helped teach other students throughout the area about space exploration.

They have even taught NASA officials and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how to take pictures of Mars.

“This experience has been fantastic,” says Yvette Lerma, from Nogales.

“We really like meeting the students from America and working with them,” adds Jiabei Sofia He from Guangzhou, China.

The collaborative nature of the project is intentional, says ASU’s Philip Christensen, the student’s scientific adviser.

“We let students explore Mars on their own,” he says. “They get to photograph places on Mars for the very first time.”

Christensen is Regents’ Professor of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, in ASU’s College of Liberals Arts and Sciences. He is the designer and principal investigator of the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), the multiple-band camera the students are using.

“This is a great way to get students excited about careers in science and technology,” he says. “The students show a sense of excitement at being part of space exploration – not just watching from the side, but actually participating. It’s wonderful to see these groups of kids come together and share ideas.”

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