BEACH, Fla. - A team of students at Laguna/Acoma High School in
New Mexico is helping NASA explore Mars. Theyre one of only
13 student groups selected by Cornell University as student interns
for the Mars Exploration Rovers.
Larry Crumpler, a research curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural
History and Science wanted to get New Mexico students involved.
Science and math teacher Joe Aragon at Laguna/Acoma High School
sent the winning proposal for how the program would help their students.
Laguna/Acoma High School has approximately 400 students and 35 teachers.
Its a public school located on the Laguna pueblo reservation
in a rural area. The student body is about 80 percent American Indian
and 20 percent Hispanic. Aragon selected students who had shown
initiative in the past and would be active participants.
and Opportunity landed on Mars Jan. 3 and 24. Each intern group
got to visit NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for a week
and help the scientists. The Laguna/Acoma students were fortunate
enough to visit during one of the most exciting periods of the mission
- while preparing for the landing of the second spacecraft on Mars
the first spacecraft wouldnt respond to commands from Earth.
and students Mark Vallejos, 18, and Brandon Herrera, 16, arrived
at JPL on Jan. 18, two weeks after Spirits landing. Their
first night coincided with the Acoma Pueblos pilgrimage for
the safety and welfare of the tribe and the world. Aragon noted,
"Because of cultural religious activities at home, it was especially
important for me to stay awake and active [that] night. This all-night
observance was for the support of the individuals involved in a
religious pilgrimage back home, so it made it doubly significant
for me this first night on Mars."
and his students attended meetings with the scientists. The meetings
discussed the progress as well as which rock was most interesting
to look at next and which science instruments should be used.
interns were put to work, measuring the sizes of tiny pebbles and
rocks in the photos. The Mars scientists have a simple method of
keeping track of whats what on Mars - nicknames. During the
1996 Mars Pathfinder mission one rock looked like Yogi Bear, so
it got nicknamed "Yogi." That earned the team a personal
cartoon from Yogis creator Bill Hanna.
football-size rock stood out. Principal scientist Steve Squires
said that the preliminary name "pyramid" was too boring
so theyd have to find a more distinguished name. The team
chose Adirondack, after the Adirondack mountain range in New York.
In the official release NASA noted "The word Adirondack is
Native American and is interpreted by some to mean They of
the great rocks."
sent Spirit the commands to drive up to Adirondack and put its arm
against the rock. The arm includes a drill to cut away the surface
and peer into the rock, a microscope camera, and a chemical analyzer.
But just as Spirit reached Adirondack on Jan. 21 it stopped communicating
some engineers tried to determine what went wrong with Spirit the
rest of the team prepared for Opportunitys landing on Mars.
After the incredibly successful Spirit landing several weeks earlier,
but mysterious communications problems, everyone was anxious.
Laguna/Acoma team was scheduled to go home on Jan. 24. But that
night the second spacecraft, Opportunity was going to land. It was
a chance they didnt want to pass up.
had to give up our apartment because the next team was supposed
to take over," Aragon said. Even without a place to stay Aragon
and the students decided it was worth it to hang around another
watched the Opportunity landing with the Spirit scientists, away
from the bedlam in the mission control room where anxious engineers
monitored the landing, with high level NASA officials and VIPs looking
over their shoulders. "As it got closer to the landing we saw
a flurry of activities in the science building and it was really
exciting. It was a pretty anxious time for everybody we noticed
there. When it landed I even felt relieved, I was nervous,"