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NASA Scientist Talks Curiosity Rover at South Pointe

Dr. Mike Wong shared photos and a short video of the landing with students at the middle school.

NASA Scientist Dr. Mike Wong visited South Pointe Middle School on this week to share news about the landing and capabilities of the latest rover on the red planet.

Wong told 8th graders Tuesday about the mission that involved over 2,000 NASA scientists and was a decade in the making during 50-minute assemblies throughout the day.

He brought a detailed rover model, photos, and a short video of the actual landing.

The Curiosity is about three-months into the two–year mission and was programed to land on its own.

“As the rover was descending it was taking radar measurements of the surface to find a nice flat spot to land and steered itself toward it,” Wong explained.

“We couldn’t remote control the landing because it takes about 14 minutes to get a signal to the rover. By the time we learned that it had landed, the Curiosity had been on the surface for 14 minutes,” he said.

One presentation slide showed a photo of the rover exploring at Mt. Sharp.

“The reason we wanted to go to Mt. Sharp is because it has lots of layered rock deposits, similar to our Grand Canyon, Wong described.

“We want to see what Mars’ past history is like,” he said.

Three students were selected to come on stage with a full-size rover wheel to demonstrate the length of the Curiosity.

“NASA tried to make the rover as light as possible. And it’s about as long as a Mini Cooper, he described.

“How tall is it?” one student asked.

“About as tall as your Principal (Mrs. Arzola),” Wong answered.

Students got to touch an actual parachute that helped another rover successfully float to the blue Atlantic.

And they passed around a Pyrotechnic Actuator that was used for the heat shield release of the parachute for the rover landing.

He even showed the kids a free Mars Rover video game available for Xbox.

“What are you going to do with the information that is sent from the rover?” one student asked.

“Scientists like to write papers,” Wong jokingly said. “It will answer fundamental scientific information about Mars and we’ll find out if it has organics,” he said. He showed students the drill-down instruments that are being used to help determine if life ever existed in the Martian atmosphere.

The 8th graders also received official NASA stickers for participating in the program.

Kellie Muragishi, 8th grade science teacher, coordinated the event and was excited about the interactive lesson.

“Our students will be learning more about Mars later this year,” she said.  

South Pointe Panthers involved in Science Olympiad and Project Lead the Way, a new program focusing on integrating science andmath through engineering, gobbled up the information.

“Seeing the Curiosity and the learning about the mechanics will help them in the program,” Muragishi added.

“It was very interesting learning about Mars and seeing all the pictures – and how Rover landed on Mars because I didn’t know how that happened,” said Annelisse Kennedy-Lewis after the assembly.

“I liked learning about Mars because I didn’t know anything about it before,” added Sameen Shakbi.

Wong shared that he became interested in scienceafter watching a television show and loved the pictures of the planets.

“That’s why I wanted to become a scientist because there is so much cool stuff in space,” he said while showing a photo of the polar caps on Mars.

“It took a lot of motivation so I had to really want it. It’s like anything in life – it’s worth the work,” he said.

--Walnut Valley Unified School District

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