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Centaurus High School – Lafayette, CO

They live near the Rocky Mountains, but the rocky landscape of Mars is their specialty. Two students and one teacher from Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colorado are helping the Mars Exploration Rover science team analyze data to determine the geochemistry of martian rocks.

Dr. Emily Haynes, Mark and Miranda are members of the Athena Student Interns Program (ASIP) which is giving high school students from across the nation the chance to work with the scientists of the Mars Rover mission. Their mentor is Dr. William Farrand, an Athena Science Team member who is a geologist with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

On a recent trip to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), the Centaurus ASIP team worked with Dr. Farrand to analyze information about the rock outcrop at Opportunity’s landing site. “Dr. Farrand gave us a series of images of the crater which were in ‘false color’ to put together into a larger image called a mosaic. There are a lot of greens and purples as well as orange in these pictures because the different types of rock show up as different colors indicating the way they reflect light through a variety of filters on the panoramic cameras on the rover,” says Emily. “We learned that the rocks in the layers of the rock outcrop are not only formed at different times, but contain different minerals. We were excited when Dr. Farrand used our work to show the results to the rest of the science team.”

Emily, Mark and Miranda were also excited to be able to participate in rover testing while at JPL. The scientists and engineers “driving” Opportunity needed to test how well the rover could dig a trench on the 12 degree slope on the inside edge of Eagle Crater. Emily explains, “Mark shoveled dirt to build the slope, then we all got to watch how the rover wheel went back and forth to dig the trench. The engineers observed the slippage of the wheels on the manmade slope, which was the same amount of wheel slippage that occurred on Mars. Knowing how the rover behaves in the test bed helps scientists and engineers program the rover on Mars.”

The Centaurus team attended many mission meetings, got to know several of the Mars Rover scientists, and saw many of the images from Mars as soon as they were transmitted from the rovers. Emily says, “One very memorable and exciting event was when the first images of a ‘rat-hole’ on Mars that Spirit drilled on the rock ‘Adirondack’ came on the screen. We were in the science room waiting and then cheering with the other scientists.”

To get ready for their work with the rover science team, the Centaurus ASIP group has trained since May of 2003 via teleconferences with NASA scientists and meetings with their mentor. Emily states, “We have had to learn about Mars exploration, the instruments on the rovers, martian geology, software needed to operate the rovers, and details of the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) which is one of the rover instruments used to analyze the rocks on the surface of Mars.”

Mark and Miranda enjoy sharing what they have learned about the Mars Exploration Rover mission with others. They especially enjoy the classes they meet at elementary schools and they have found that many of the students ask challenging questions.

Mark is a sophomore at Centaurus High School where he participates in theatre, a pre-engineering program, and the robotics team. Outside of school, Mark is involved in many Boy Scout activities, and is a camp counselor at a Jewish children’s camp. He enjoys reading, music, soccer, snowboarding, and especially his dog, Nimitz.

Miranda is a senior at Centaurus where she participates in orchestra, golf, and is a member of the National Honor Society. She is very interested in pursuing engineering as a career and has been accepted at the University of Colorado in the College of Engineering for the fall of 2004. She enjoys being outdoors and participating in sports. She also finds time to watch her brothers on the Centaurus football and wrestling teams.