Author Archives: Isabelle Kingsley

A great achievement by Merrylands High School

The Mars Lab team was invited to Merrylands High School last Thursday to witness the Year 9s presentations of Project Mars.

This Year 9 class had spent a whole term doing Project Mars. They used the Mars Lab’s robotic rover and its on-board camera and spectrometer to explore the (recreated) Martian surface and search for evidence that Mars could have supported life.

The Mars Lab team was blown away by the students’ presentations. Congratulations to everyone who presented!

Their teacher, Alice Leung wrote about the students’ experience in this blog post.

Merryland HS presenting Project Mars

Merryland HS presenting Project Mars

An incredible video conference with NASA’s Jen Shechet

jen shechet

Last Friday (16 May), Mars Lab hosted an exciting video conference with Jen Shechet, Earth and planetary scientist on the Mars Curiosity Rover team.  Live from CalTech, Jen spoke with students from Casula High School, PLC Armidale, Trundle Central School and Condobolin High School who also joined us via video conference as well as students from Mary MacKillop College who were here live in the Mars Lab studio.

Jen told us all about her work at NASA and her current role as ‘keeper of the plan’, in which she helps “build the plan fragments that get sent up to the rover”, characterises the terrains that the rover has driven over and “assesses the predictive capabilities of terrain we will drive over in the future, to best protect the rover wheels from future wheel damage.”

Since the Martian day (called a sol) is 37 minutes longer than a day here on Earth, Jen explained that she sometimes has to live on ‘Mars time’; which she did for the first three months after Curiosity rover first landed on Mars.  Coming in to work 37 minutes later each day really throws off your normal ‘Earth’ schedule.

When the Big Bang Theory television show was mentioned, Jen admitted that CalTech is very much like that show … “just as nerdy”.  When asked who she is most like on the show, Jen compared herself to Bernadette – but hopefully a lot less annoying!

It was an absolute pleasure speaking to Jen.  We learned heaps, had a few laughs and found out how fun it is to be a planetary scientist … so inspiring.

Keep checking our website for the next special video conference event.

jen shechet1

Life from electrical energy? Maybe!

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the Icy Worlds team at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute think that electrical energy naturally produced at the sea floor might have given rise to life here on Earth.

According to this “water world” theory, life may have begun inside warm, gentle springs on the sea floor, at a time long ago.

The team’s origins of life theory applies not just to Earth but also to other wet, rocky worlds. So, by testing this hypothesis, NASA researchers may be able to explain how life might have arisen on these other places in our solar system or beyond, and also get an idea of how to look for it.


Arduino excitement

Craig and James from Mars Lab are having a great time experimenting with Arduino bits. Could we program Arduinos to become instruments on our rovers? … oh, the possibilities!

crazy craig

Shooting a video of the Mawson rover

The Mars Lab team spent the day filming a video on Experimental Mars Rover – Mawson.  The video will highlight all the amazing features of the rover; from the 6-wheeled rocker bogie mechanism that keeps Mawson stable, the impressive maneuvers he can perform to the high-res camera and laser.

Stay tuned for the release of this video soon.


Mars Mission 5 trialed by Willunga HS

The Mars Lab team has created a new virtual excursion which came out of conversations with teachers who said they wanted to have a ‘teaser-like’ Mars Lab experience for their classes where students would get to drive the rover from their classroom.

From those conversations was born Mars Mission 5: a 200 minute introduction to the robotic exploration of Mars which focuses on collaboration, planning, observation and scientific investigation.  The students are divided into 5 teams, are given 5 clues and are required to plan, practice and carry out their Mars mission as a whole class.  

Willunga High School was the first to trial Mars Mission 5.  They used Mars Yard Maps to carefully plan their mission, then rotated through 5 stations (driving station, camera control, pan-tilt control, logging station and media station).  

Here are some tweets written and photos taken by the students during the experience:

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  • #take the photo
  • #thisisagooddrivingteam
  • having problems with the driving but we have solved it and are back to work we are not going to complete our mission but we are having so much fun
  • the rover is now driving through the crater, this is the hardest part of the mission so wish us luck
  • #thefinalcountdown
  • five minutes to go, things are getting heckaz
  • #werestuck
  • one of the wheels of the rover is not responding #resettime
  • another photo taken #blueberries
  • discussion time #refelecting
  • #missionsuccesful


Probing Mars

Mars holds so many mysteries, we just can’t contain our curiosity!

India has just launched it’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) last week, 5 November 2013.  MOM is carrying 5 scientific instruments, including a methane sensor to look traces of the gas in Mars’s atmosphere – a gas which is mainly produced by life.   New Scientist article: India blasts off for Mars: here’s what it will do

Next month, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), is set to launch.  MAVEN will explore Mars’ atmosphere to gain insight into the history of the planet’s atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability. NASA website: MAVEN

Count down to mission day at PLC Armidale

Mission logo

Mission logos

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Excitement builds at PLC Armidale as the young ladies in Mr Burke’s year 6 class count down to their mission to Mars this week.

The students have been very busy in the last few weeks preparing for their 60 Minutes on Mars mission.  Mr Burke is using the mission experience to work on various skills such as mapping, scale and spatial understanding (eg. estimating the size of surface features, comparing them to the size of the rover and deciding on the best path), writing and following a procedure, working collaboratively, as well as design and creativity.

In small mission teams, the students have examined and discussed the landscape of the Mars Yard to identify sites of interest that they would like to visit using the rover on mission day.  After identifying 9 sites of interest, the students were challenged to work out the best path to drive the rover to all 9 sites in only 60 minutes.  Not an easy feat.

Based on all the proposed paths, the class then worked out the best overall path and assigned each mission team various legs of the mission path. Students were all very eager to find out who would get to drive the rover, to which Mr Burke replied “Everyone will get the chance to control the rover.”

The pressure was on!  Driving a real rover is not playing a video game.  So, to ensure their driving skills are up to par, the students prepared and practised their leg of the mission using the Virtual Mars Yard (VMY) – a virtual environment that looks like the actual Mars Yard and a simulated rover. The VMY is similar to the actual teleoperation interface in which the students learned about the controls and practised various manoeuvres such as pan and tilt, spot turns and crab motion just like the real rover in the real Mars Yard.

Mission day is fast approaching and the students have put the final touches on their mission logos based around the schools motto “ad astra” (to the stars or reach for the stars).  Mr Burke indicated that “the girls can’t wait to have a real drive”.

PLC Armidale logo 4

Mission logos

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