Report from Headquarters

Space Foundation Co-Hosts Educational Exchange

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Space Foundation Co-Hosts Educational Exchange The question of the day on Aug. 3 for Dr. Amitabha Ghosh, a planetary geologist assigned to work on NASA’s Mars Missions, was, “When will human exploration on Mars become possible?”

Ghosh was the guest speaker at the Charles County Public Schools (Md.) Educational Exchange held at North Point High School (Waldorf, Md.) in partnership with the Space Foundation. More than 100 students, teachers, administrators and county organizations were invited to attend. The exchange educates the community on the efforts the school system is making in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Superintendent of Schools James E. Richmond welcomed guests and emphasized the importance of providing students with skills needed in the 21st century. “It is important for our students to have access to STEM-related programs and to become engaged by science and mathematics. We are advancing our efforts to provide students with tools necessary to succeed in the future and the very best education to prepare them for infinite possibilities,” Richmond said.

Board of Education Chairman Roberta S. Wise introduced Ghosh, who serves as chair of the science operations working group for the Mars exploration rover mission and is responsible for planning rover activities on Mars. There are currently two rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – in use on Mars to collect geologic and experimental data, monitor planetary and atmospheric conditions and photograph planetary terrain. Ghosh spoke of recent Mars developments and his experiences in driving the rovers. “The most crucial part of these missions is whether or not the rovers land successfully on Mars,” Ghosh said. Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, began exploring Mars in January 2004 on missions Ghosh said were planned to last only three months.

The rovers rely on solar powered panels as power sources. Ghosh said winter conditions on Mars often cause the rovers to revert to hibernation mode because of the angles of the sun. “The rovers use existing energy in hibernation mode to recharge and heat its batteries, and all communications are suspended,” Ghosh added. Spirit has been in hibernation mode since April 2009. Both rovers have made discoveries about wet environments that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.

Ghosh also provided participants with a view of the mission through a video based on the launch, orbit and landing of the rovers. Participants were interested in NASA’s future plans for Mars, as well as how the rovers operate. Iain Probert, vice president – education for the Space Foundation, asked about the driving schedules for the rovers. Ghosh said staff operate in shifts to operate the rovers, and NASA relies on images to navigate the terrain. Wendell Martin, principal of Theodore G. Davis Middle School (Waldorf, Md.), asked Ghosh what the likelihood of human exploration on Mars occurring in this century is and what it would entail. Ghosh said it is unlikely that human exploration on Mars will occur soon because of high costs and limited information is currently available about possible working conditions.

This was the fourth educational exchange hosted by CCPS. The Board of Education developed the exchanges two years ago.

Article reprinted from Southern Maryland Online, Aug. 18, 2010.

The Space Foundation has a partnership with Charles County Public Schools to provide educational programs, including Space Across the Curriulum courses.

Pictured: Charles County Board of Education Chairman Roberta S. Wise, right, and Dr. Amitabha Ghosh, a NASA geologist assigned to work the Mars rover missions

This article is part of Space Watch: September 2010 (Volume: 9, Issue: 9).