Exploration Rover Robotics Education Program
Mesa Union Elementary School, Somis, CA
By Bonnie J. Walters
NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador
NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) were launched on June 10th and July 7th, 2003. The MER Robotics Education Program enables students to experience and run a real-life mission of their own - from concept to completion. In addition, the MER Robotics Mission stimulates students to think about all the possibilities exploration brings - from our own solar system to very distant suns with their planetary systems.
Basically, participating schools build a Marscape from papier mâché and a robotic rover. Then they send their rover to another school to be remotely operated on that school's Marscape. They send commands over the Internet to move the rover, take images, process and analyze them, then build a scale model of the landscape. The MER program is a standards-based curriculum.
At Mesa Union we approached the mission in a different way. We are a K-8 school with 545 students. Grades K-5 made both the Marscape and four rovers. Each grade incorporated their part of the mission into the curriculum. The 7th grade class programmed and tested the rovers, learning their every detail. They practiced imaging and analyzing for distances of objects. Next they remotely imaged the unknown Marscape and made a panorama.
When completed, the 8'X8' Marscape went to my living room for the next step of the mission. The 7th grade launched the rover and it "landed" on the Marscape. For the next 6 weeks they sent commands and received images completing their panorama. The students took 197 remote images of the Marscape. They found and studied many interesting objects and completed the mission exhilarated.
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