Space Day 1999
Glenn announces school children will help drive next Mars rover
May 6, 1999
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. mission to Mars will let school children help operate a robotic rover as it rolls over the red Martian surface, former astronaut John Glenn announced on Thursday.
The Mars Surveyor 2001 mission, set to launch in 2001, will allow student "astronauts," living in a simulated Mars base on Earth, to assist in manipulating the rover on Mars, according to Glenn.
"For the first time, students will participate in controlling a vehicle on another world," the former Senator said in announcing the Red Rover Goes To Mars project at the National Air and Space Museum.
Glenn was standing steps away from the Friendship 7 space capsule he rode into orbit in 1962 as a Mercury astronaut in the early days of the U.S. space program. He returned to space flight last year aboard shuttle Discovery at the age of 77.
"Perhaps one day a student selected for the Red Rover Goes To Mars project will become one of the first astronauts to actually land on Mars itself," Glenn said.
The Red Rover project will pick students aged 11 to 17 from around the world, starting with an essay contest to be announced this October, he said.
As many as 100 students may ultimately be chosen for the project, depending on mission constraints, according to a spokeswoman for the Planetary Society, a space-boosting organization that is supporting the venture.
Some will be student "astronauts," working side-by-side with scientists who use computers to control the rover. Others will be student scientists who will assist members of the Mars Surveyor 2001 science teams, Glenn said.
"You're going to actually get a chance to actually drive flight hardware on another planet," said Bill Nye, a children's science show host on U.S. public television and a member of Planetary Society's board, who was also present for the announcement.
Students to build experiments
Nye said students will also be able to compete to create a tiny "nano-experiment," about the size of a pea and weighing only a few ounces to be affixed to the rover.
Through the Internet, students around the world will be able to replicate the experiments of the student astronauts, using miniature robotic rovers that they construct themselves.
The rover, to be called the Marie Curie, will be the same type of vehicle as Sojourner, the boxy rolling robot deployed on Mars in 1997.
The Mars Surveyor 2001 mission will be run NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Red Rover Goes To Mars plan is a project of the Planetary Society and the Lego company.
The project is an outgrowth of an existing program called Red Rover, Red Rover -- named after the popular children's game -- in which students at 400 schools and science centers around the world can use Internet-linked computers to "tele-operate" robotic rovers on Earth.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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