Broadcast: July 16, 2003
This is Phoebe Zimmerman.
The American space agency, NASA, launched its second Mars Exploration Rover vehicle last Monday night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft separated successfully from its rocket eighty-three minutes later, after it had flown out of Earth orbit. It is now on a path to Mars. The name of this exploration vehicle is “Opportunity.” The first exploration vehicle is called “Spirit.” It has traveled more than eighty-million kilometers since its launch June tenth.
The launch of Opportunity came after two weeks of delays and postponements caused by bad weather and technical problems.
NASA has chosen two scientifically interesting landing areas for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to explore on the surface of Mars. Opportunity is to arrive at the area on Mars called Meridiani Planum on January twenty-fifth, two-thousand-four. The landing area shows evidence of minerals that usually form in liquid water.
This is close to the Martian equator and halfway around the planet from the landing area for the Spirit rover. Spirit is expected to land in an area on Mars called the Gusev Crater three weeks before Opportunity. This is an area that may have once been a lake. It is fifteen degrees south of Mars’ equator.
Each Mars Exploration Rover will examine its landing area for evidence of past liquid water activity. Each will also look for past environmental conditions that could have supported life. NASA officials say the two areas are very different and will provide two kinds of evidence about liquid water in the history of Mars.
Pete Theisinger (TIE-sing-er) is the project manager for the Opportunity exploration rover vehicle. After its launch he said: “A major step is behind us. There are still very difficult parts of this flight ahead of us, but we have two spacecraft on the way to Mars, and that is wonderful.”
Astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas have spent much of the summer testing mechanical machines that are similar to humans. Machines such as these are usually called robots. Because they will one day work in space, NASA has named them Robonauts. The Robonauts look something like humans. Each has a head, body, two arms and two hands. The Robonauts have been designed to work in space or on other planets as members of a team with living astronauts.
Robonauts are controlled by an astronaut inside the space craft or by a person on Earth who uses radio signals to make the Robonaut perform its work.
Robert Ambrose is the manager of the Robonaut project. He says two astronauts usually work together when they are outside a spacecraft. He says if the same two astronauts each work with a Robonaut controlled by another astronaut, they can do almost two times the amount of work. Mister Ambrose says each astronaut and a Robonaut would be a team. During the summer tests, NASA Astronaut Nancy Currie was the team leader of several Robonauts.
Mizz Currie took part in a test to build a large structure made of aluminum. Mizz Currie and her Robonaut helpers built the structure several times. It took less time to build each time.
When the job was complete, the team placed electric wires inside the structure. The Robonauts took the wire out of its package and placed it correctly in the structure. Mizz Currie connected the wires.
Then the officials carried out an emergency test. They told Mizz Currie to take the necessary steps to remove a dangerous chemical from the protective clothing she would wear in space. She used a special brush to remove the chemical. Then, the Robonauts used the brush to remove the chemical from areas Mizz Currie could not reach. Mizz Currie said the tests were successful.
She said astronauts will think about using teams of Robonauts to help in the future when they work outside their space craft.
Long before astronauts first entered the International Space Station, organisms were already living there. These organisms can only be seen using a microscope. Most are harmless. However, some could be dangerous if not controlled. They could attack the space station and its crew.These first living space travelers are microbes. Microbes include viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Monsi Roman is the chief microbiologist for the Environmental Control and Life Support Systems project. She works at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Mizz Roman says microbes were waiting for the first space station crew when they arrived. The microbes were attached to the station's equipment. They were left there by the people who had worked to make different parts of the space station.
Mizz Roman says most microbes are not a threat. She says each microbe is different. Some microbes even help humans. For example, microbes help us digest our food. However, if some kinds are not controlled they can reproduce and eat many kinds of materials.
The space station was designed and built using materials that can resist microbes. Temperature and the water in the space station’s atmosphere are controlled to slow or stop the growth of microbes.
However Mizz Roman must work like a detective to find out what microbes will do in different situations and in different areas of the space station. She also works to make sure the microbes do not become a threat. To do this she closely studies the space station’s air supply and water system.
Mizz Roman grew up on the island of Puerto Rico. She says she never dreamed she would be a scientist working to guarantee safe water and air for astronauts. She says working at NASA is great fun. She says the most exciting thing is watching the International Space Station develop from drawings on paper to a real home and work place in space.
NASA has begun a major new education program. NASA announced its Explorer Schools Program recently at a meeting in Seattle, Washington. The purpose of the program is to interest young children in science and mathematics.
NASA’s Education Enterprise supports the program in cooperation with the National Science Teachers Association. The program will be a three-year effort that links NASA and fifty NASA Explorer Schools across the United States.
The fifty schools are in thirty states. Eighty percent of the schools are in areas where the people are economically poor. Seventy-five percent of the schools are in minority communities. Of the fifty schools, fifty-eight percent are in both poor and minority areas.
The NASA Explorer Schools Program will begin with a “back-to-school” program for teachers. Science and mathematics teachers will be invited to attend special classes at NASA centers. NASA experts will help the teachers learn new teaching tools to make science, mathematics and technology more enjoyable to students.
The students will learn new things using classroom teaching linked with educational technology. For example, NASA Explorer Schools students will be able to talk to people in far away places. Guest speakers will appear in classrooms electronically with the use of digital technology. The schools will be able to do this with the help of special technology to help them talk to space explorers.
Adena Williams Loston is NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education. She says NASA’s goal is to help children learn how exciting science and technology can be. NASA and the teachers will work together to make learning science and math more interesting and fun.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Lawan Davis. Our studio engineer was Sulaiman Tarawaley. I’m Phoebe Zimmerman.
And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in Special English on the Voice of America.