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Teachers, museum plan Mars mission launch celebration

Submitted by Kerynn Fisher
Phone: (907) 474-6941


Photo caption below.
Illustration by Corby Waste/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

An illustration of the Pheonix Mars lander. The lander is designed to study the history of water in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil.

Download informational flier (PDF 352K)

Fairbanks has a special connection to NASA's upcoming Phoenix Mission to Mars.

Last summer, Lathrop High School biology teacher Wendy Ehnert and West Valley physics teacher Travis Stagg were one of ten pairs of teachers selected nationwide for the Mars Arctic Regions Science Field Experiment for Secondary Teachers, or MARSFEST. Their weeklong training gave them insight into polar science, climate change and current Mars research. MARSFEST organizers hoped the teachers would serve as ambassadors for the Mars exploration programs and share their discoveries with students and other local teachers in the years to come.

This summer, Ehnert and Stagg are putting that training to good use, planning an almost-all-night event at the University of Alaska Museum of the North to get not just their own students, but the entire community, fired up about the Phoenix Mars Mission. The mission is scheduled for launch in early August for a Mars landing in May 2008.

"We wanted to do something that would make the mission and the launch accessible to a wide audience," says Ehnert. "The museum was the perfect partner for the event and the perfect venue."

The Aug. 2 museum event will begin at 7 p.m. and continue until 2 a.m., concluding with a live broadcast of the launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The evening event is designed so that visitors can come for a couple hours, or for the truly dedicated science enthusiast, spend the entire evening at the museum. Activities include:

" Mars documentary films in the museum auditorium, to be shown at 7 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight, including the latest new release.

" A lectures series on Mars explorations past, present and future beginning at 8 p.m. Each lecture will last 30 minutes, including time for questions. Lectures topics are:

" Mars Exploration Introduction, with Robert Herrick, research associate professor, UAF Geophysical Institute
" Mars Exploration Rovers: A Balance of Science and Engineering, with Jerry Johnson, research geophysicist, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory
" UAF Student Rocketry Program, with Joe Hawkins, professor, UAF Geophysical Institute
" The Phoenix Mission: Searching for Water, with Travis Stagg, physics teacher, West Valley High School and Wendy Ehnert, biology teacher, Lathrop High School
" Extremophile Biology: Life in Extreme Environments, with Mary Beth Leigh, assistant professor of microbiology, UAF Institute of Arctic Biology
" Mars Science Lab, with Jerry Johnson

" A rocket-building program for youth aged 7-12, led by Neal Brown and Becky Lees of the Alaska Space Grant Program. This part of the evening event has a $10 fee, and, with only 20 spots available, will fill up quickly. Pre-registration is required. Interested parents should call 474-6948 to register their children as soon as possible.

" A live broadcast of the Phoenix Mission launch on the big screen in the museum auditorium. The live broadcast is dependent on the video feed and the launch taking place as scheduled at the opening of the launch window at 1:35 a.m. Alaska time, Friday, Aug. 3. As with all NASA missions, the launch is subject to weather conditions and technology at the launch site. The launch may not take place at the opening of the 22-day launch window.

Throughout the evening, visitors of all ages can explore the Martian landscape on multimedia stations equipped with NASA's World Wind Mars, view video and animations from previous Mars missions, see an animation of the next generation Mars Science Lab rover and learn more about the Phoenix mission. Telescopes will be set up to view the stars in the almost-dark night sky. Refreshments will be available. Except for the rocket-building program, all activities are free.

The Phoenix mission is the first in NASA's "Scout" program. The Phoenix lander is designed to study the history of water and search for complex organic molecules in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil. The mission is operated for NASA by the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin and the Canadian Space Agency. It is the first mission to Mars led by an academic institution.

CONTACT: University of Alaska Museum of the North communications coordinator Kerynn Fisher at (907) 474-6941 or (907) 378-2559.

Note to editors: More information on the Phoenix mission, including high-resolution images and digital animations, are available online at http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.