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Contest will send tiny student experiment to Mars

The Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander
The Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander   

March 25, 1999
Web posted at: 6:16 p.m. EST (2316 GMT)

By CNN Interactive Space Editor Randal Jackson

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What can you do with an experiment that's the size of an aspirin, no heavier than a penny, and is millions of miles from Earth?

Plenty, says Bill Nye, "the science guy." Acting as spokesman for the Planetary Society, Nye announced on Wednesday the first opportunity for a student-designed experiment to be performed on another world.

"Human beings should be able to come up with something cool to do with this 'huge' space," Nye said Wednesday, using a pair of tweezers to hold a tiny metal tube that will house the experiment.

Nye, host of the television series "Disney Presents Bill Nye the Science Guy," said NASA will offer exactly 1 centimeter by 1 centimeter of space to some ingenious student, or group of students, aboard the Mars Surveyor Lander mission when it rockets toward the red planet on April 10, 2001.

The challenge is considerable. Besides being tiny, the experiment must fit within other strict parameters: Its total mass cannot exceed 3 grams. It must be self-contained. Its results must be visible to the lander's onboard camera. And absolutely no critters.

"We can't send living things to another planet. That might screw it up," Nye said.

The Planetary Society, in cooperation with NASA and a consortium of private groups, is sponsoring the contest to select the experiment. The contest advances the Society's goal of involving "all of humankind in planetary exploration," Nye said.

Entrants must be pre-college students who were 18 years or younger as of March 1, 1999.

To enter, students must design and build a prototype experiment and submit it, along with a written summary.

The winning proposal will be selected by a panel of Planetary Society members, scientists and engineers. The Society will fund the building and testing of an actual flight unit based on the winning proposal.

The contest deadline is July 31, 1999. Entry forms and complete guidelines are available from the Planetary Society at 65 North Catalina Avenue, Pasadena, California, or on the Society's Web site at

The Planetary Society is the largest space interest group in the world. It was founded by the late scientist and author Carl Sagan and others in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life.

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