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SCV children get look at Mars rover

Scientists tour local schools to keep spirit of exploration alive

Posted: February 21, 2014 5:39 p.m.
Updated: February 21, 2014 5:39 p.m.

Santa Clarita Elementary School kindergarteners, from left, Violet Abadi, Liberty French and Lizelle Gonzalez react as "Sammy" the NASA Mars rover model crawls over their backs during a science assembly presented by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the school in Saugus on Thursday. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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A collection of Santa Clarita Valley school children had their curiosity piqued this week as two local residents, who both work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, gave them the scoop on the Curiosity Rover currently roaming the surface of Mars.

Santa Clarita resident Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for the Mars Curiosity mission, and Santa Clarita resident Dennis Young, lead project resource analyst at JPL, took time during several days this week to meet with Santa Clarita Valley students and present some of the technology used and the reasoning behind sending roving robots to the Red Planet.

“The first human being we send to Mars will be this age (now),” Young said Thursday, gesturing at a collection of young children at Santa Clarita Elementary School. “So we want to get them excited about science.”

That is particularly important at a time when space exploration has been hampered somewhat by the nation’s budget concerns, according to Trosper.

“I think inspiration is the main reason why we are here,” Trosper said Thursday.

To that end, the pair talked to students about the Curiosity Rover, a car-sized, six-wheeled robot that is searching to determine if Mars could have ever supported life.

But in the interest of scientific accuracy, Young said it is necessary to explain that any kind of Martian life would not be the ray-gun-wielding, saucer-flying types seen in movies or on television. “Martians” would more likely be small life forms called microbes.

Education being an increasingly hands-on experience, some of the kids at Santa Clarita Elementary got an up-close look at rover technology by having a rover model roll over their backs as they lay on the floor, prompting a series of excited yells.

Young said such assemblies and presentations are geared toward a younger audience so children can understand some of the major differences between Mars and Earth.

“We try to find clever ways to communicate with them at the age they are so they can relate to what we’re trying to teach,” he said.

For instance, Young said, the JPL scientists will use the example of Christmas to demonstrate how the Martian year is roughly twice as long as an Earth year.

“So children on Mars would only get half the presents,” Young said with a smile. “Kids can understand that.”

“In the end it is hard stuff to learn, but I think you don’t want them to miss out on the fact that it’s fun and it’s cool,” Trosper said.

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

 

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