March 28, 2010

Mars Experiment Design Competition Focuses on Teamwork

Before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, NASA wanted to learn more about Earth's closest celestial body. So, it sent probes and rovers to check out the conditions. The space agency has sent similar missions to the Red Planet, only now it is turning to future explorers to help learn how to live and work on Mars long before humans travel there.

Space Florida recently announced the names of three winning school teams in Florida for the Mars Experiment Design Competition, which will bring the nation one step closer to the Martian surface.

Lake Nona Middle/High School in Orange County: Team "Geeky Lions" will perform geology and biology field studies with its experiment called "Can Water Plus Martian Soil Equal Life?"

Mulrennan Middle School in Hillsborough County: Team "TechPlayZone Red Voyagers" will study human factors with its experiment called "Emotional Dynamics."

Golden Gate High School in Collier County: Team "Big Red Mission Crew" will study mission operations with its experiment called "How to Produce Energy."

Space Florida received 32 completed entries in this scientific design competition, which invited Florida middle and high school students to design scientific experiments to send to the Mars Desert Research Station, or MDRS, in Utah in March.

The MDRS is one of four such facilities throughout the world, and is operated by The Mars Society. Each facility can simulate the environmental and geological conditions encountered on the planet.

Three judges -- all recognized experts in their field of study -- closely examined the entries and agreed that scientific standards were very high.

"We are grateful to everyone who participated. It is obvious that teachers and students worked very closely together so as to come up with these innovative Mars experiments," said Tony Gannon, Space Florida director of education.

The winning teams will now focus on refining their experiments before they are shipped to the facility.

In the spring, and with cooperation from Kennedy and its Digital Learning Network, or DLN, NASA personnel will transmit scientific results obtained from the experiments to the three winning teams. During these transmissions, each team will have an opportunity to interact directly with NASA engineers. They also will take a virtual tour of Kennedy.

Dr. George Yoakum, science teacher and "Geeky Lions" team leader at Lake Nona Middle/High School said, "Perhaps most importantly, students learned to recognize the strengths of their teammates, peers and mentors, and became comfortable organizing these resources to reach high-quality decisions."


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