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NASA head visits Australia

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who visited Australia this week.

THE ADMINISTRATOR OF NASA, Charles Bolden, was in Australia this week, flying the flag and interacting with students at a number of venues across the east coast.

Mr Bolden, a former astronaut (with four shuttle flights) and a former Major-General in the US Marines, became NASA Administrator in 2009. He came into the job at a challenging time, as the global financial crisis was underway and with science budgets under intense pressure.

At a lecture at the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, Mr Bolden spoke of the work NASA does in space and here on Earth, and encouraged students in the audience to work hard and follow their dreams.

He praised the work done by the staff at the tracking station at Tidbinbilla near Canberra. Known as the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, it is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, paid for the by the USA but staffed by Australians and managed by the CSIRO.

“Canberra is playing a critical role in tracking the Mars Science Laboratory that we’re going to be landing on Mars on August 6,” Mr Bolden said. “We’re really excited about everything they do.”

At the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Mr Bolden spent time with students and teachers involved in the Pathways to Space programme. Pathways to Space gives students a chance to learn more about science and technology by taking a “hands-on” approach, including operating rovers in a simulated Mars environment called the Mars Yard. They also get to work with professional scientists and engineers involved in space research.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

The Mars Yard, a simulated Mars environment, at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. This photo doesn't do it justice – it's a very slick working environment where students interact with science and technology professionals.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

Another view of the Mars Yard.

A remote-controlled Mars Yard rover

A remote-controlled rover in the Mars Yard.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the Mars Yard.

Administrator Bolden, more accustomed to flying space shuttles, takes the controls of one of the Mars Yard rovers.

Pathways to Space is a collaboration between the Powerhouse, the Federal Government, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, and CISCO Systems.

Taking the controls of one of the rovers, Mr Bolden spoke about the importance of encouraging students to put their ambitions into action and to think big … making the point that today’s students will be tomorrow’s explorers of Mars.

Your editor had a brief moment to speak with Mr Bolden, and we discussed the rarity of having a NASA Administrator visit Australia.

“I’m told there was only one previous occasion, way back in 1973, when Administrator Fletcher visited Australia as part of dealings to help set up the Deep Space Network here,” Mr Bolden said. “Let’s hope it won’t be another 30 years before another Administrator gets the chance to visit.”

More information

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Pathways to Space

Powerhouse Museum

Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex

Story and images by Jonathan Nally. Bolden portrait image courtesy NASA.

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Aussie students to explore Mars

Mars Yard

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum, will expose thousands of students to real science and engineering in action.

A NEW EDUCATION AND RESEARCH project Pathways to Space featuring a spectacular Mars research exhibit where experimental Mars rovers will operate, was launched this week at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney by the Honourable Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Combining a school education programme with robotics, astrobiology and science education research, this project will expose thousands of students to real science and engineering in action.

Its aim is to encourage students to consider science and engineering university courses, enabling them to become future participants in an emerging Australian space programme.

School students in years 10-12 will have the opportunity to plan and execute a simulated robotic mission to Mars in association with university researchers working on real space science and engineering goals.

They will have access to astrobiologists and robotics engineers in Australia and overseas via the high-definition video conferencing technology, Cisco TelePresence, in the Museum’s Thinkspace digital studios, as they consider the science and engineering factors critical to the success of a Mars mission.

Martian rover

Students will get to drive rovers around the Mars Yard.

Specially created software will allow the students to drive a virtual Mars rover before actually controlling one of the two roving vehicles in the Mars Yard.

Students unable to visit the Powerhouse will still be able to participate in the project, using the Cisco TelePresence facility via the NSW Department of Education ‘Connected Classrooms’ network.

The 140-square-metre Mars Yard has been created with materials closely resembling those actually found on Mars. It also features several genuine artefacts—an Australian meteorite (similar to those found by NASA’s rovers on Mars) and examples of fossilised stromatolites (a form of ancient microbial life that may eventually be found on Mars).

In addition to offering a unique experience for students, Pathways to Space researchers will be carrying out a study to discover the long-term effectiveness of the project and whether it achieves its goal of nurturing a future pool of scientific and technical skills.

Pathways to Space is collaboration between universities, industry and the Powerhouse Museum, with funding from the Australian government.

It has been developed by a consortium of partners led by the University of New South Wales (Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Schools of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, and Physics), in conjunction with the University of Sydney (Australian Centre for Field Robotics), Cisco and the Powerhouse Museum.

The project is supported under the Federal Government’s Australian Space Research Program, a Super Science initiative to develop Australia’s niche space capabilities.

Adapted from information issued by Powerhouse Museum.

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