Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753

)

November 1, 1996

Mike Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-3937) RELEASE: 96-223 STUDENTS TO REMOTELY CONTROL RUSSIAN MARS ROVER IN DESERT TESTS A group of young students will take a virtual trip to Mars this month when they remotely steer a Russian-built robotic rover through a barren Arizona desert from their classrooms. The experiment is one of several NASA activities designed to develop the next generation of planetary rovers that will explore Mars early next century. The first Mars rover, aboard NASA's Mars Pathfinder lander mission, is due for launch on December 2. Using their computers and the Internet, the students will control the rover as it navigates through a sparselyvegetated area during a NASA field test to simulate future robotic exploration of the red planet. The test site is located near Flagstaff on a Navajo Indian reservation adjacent to U.S. Highway 160. Students in Tuba City schools will steer the robotic vehicle Nov. 1 and again on Nov. 12. Scientists consider the site to be an excellent analog for Martian terrain. The fact that the site is located on a Navajo Indian reservation makes it even more special to the science team, according to project leader Dr. Carol Stoker, a planetary scientist from NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. "Beyond the fact that it's a good Mars analog, a big motivator for us in choosing this site was to give a community that is not extensively involved in space exploration a first-hand, up close and personal kind of experience with NASA scientists in the field," Stoker said.

"You'd think that going out into the middle of a desert, people there would not necessarily be interested in space exploration," Stoker added. "However, what I found is that there is a tremendous amount of excitement about space travel. It was just like I'd walked into the next building back at Ames and was talking to a bunch of rocket scientists." "Space travel is kind of a religious, mythical experience for the Navajo people," said Emmit Kerley, community services coordinator for the Tuba City Chapter of the Navajo Nation. "In Navajo mythology, we believe that we came down from the stars and that it is our destiny to return to the stars." During the field tests from Nov. 4-9, scientists will conduct a six-day Mars science mission simulation using the Marsokhod. The Russian-built robotic vehicle is equipped with American avionics, computers and science instruments. The Marsokhod, or Mars rover, features six titanium wheels, a robotic arm to pick up rock and sediment samples and stereo video cameras mounted on a pan and tilt platform to transmit live images of the field test via satellite back to scientists at Ames. Scientists at Ames will control the Marsokhod using a Virtual Environment Vehicle Interface (VEVI) rover control software. Scientists will communicate with the rover using a portable satellite communication antenna at the test site. "We're using virtual reality as a substitute for live video because of the time delay in radio communications between Mars and Earth," Stoker said. "A virtual reality model shows where you are in the terrain and gives you a sense of presence in that space you don't have because of the long time delay." In addition to Stoker, the six-member field team includes Dr. Michael Sims, Daryl Rasmussen, Dan Christian and Jeff Moore, all from Ames, and Ron Greeley of Arizona State University. On Nov. 12, the scientists will conduct another educational outreach activity involving students from several Arizona schools remotely controlling the Marsokhod using their classroom computers. Persons wishing to access the Internet web site for the field tests may visit the following

URL: http://img.arc.nasa.gov Approximately 200 students from 10-15 schools in the Tuba City, AZ, area have been invited to participate in the Mars rover activity on Nov. 1. Schools include Greyhills Academy High School, Tuba City High School, Tuba City Junior High School, Tuba City Boarding School (K-8), and Eagles Nest Intermediate School all of Tuba City; Toneala Elementary School; Kayenta High School, Kayenta; Moenkopi Day School; Hopi Junior and Senior High School located on the Hopi Reservation in Keams Canyon, and Shiprock High School, Shiprock, AZ. The Institute for Native Americans at Northern Arizona University and the Rural Systemic Initiative, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, helped arrange the Mars field test on the Navajo Reservation and coordinate the student activities. Russian engineers from the Lavochkin Association in Moscow and several Navajo students will participate in this month's desert field test by working with the NASA scientists in the remote "mission control station" located at Ames. The technology being tested may be used in a proposed joint Russian-American mission called "Mars Together," tentatively scheduled for launch by the Russians in the year 2001. -end-