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Athena Student Interns Program

These journal entries were written by the Durham Academy Upper School team during their week at JPL.


04/04/04 (notes from Adam): Thus far, the science team has been more than pleased with the rover?s performance. It has gone far beyond anything that anyone could have expected, and everyone is very excited and enthusiastic. Today the Spirit rover made it past its mission objective of 600 meters! The only mission goal left is to cross the 90 sol mark. In other news, today I became the first high school student to sit at one of the ?big? chairs in the SOWG (Science Operations Working Group) meeting! That meant that I helped give the update about the instrument we?ve been working on?the Mini-TES. Also, two of the four features that I helped name were included in the next sol?s agenda (a sol is a martian day). I have now helped name several rocks on Mars! I have been impressed with how the scientists work relatively smoothly in the meetings to get things done and on schedule.

04/06/04 (notes from Craig): Mission accomplished! Yesterday we received data from Spirit confirming that it had successfully survived its 90th sol of operations, meaning that every objective NASA set for its primary mission has been met. There was much rejoicing! A local band performed Sol 92?s wakeup song, ?Fly Me To The Moon?, and scientists were served cake (with a picture of the rock Mazatzal on it). We were treated to stories of Spirit?s mission from people involved in many different ways: engineers, scientists, and many others.

The other big thing around here is that I have been doing some data analysis for Dr. Moersch, our mentor. I?m trying to isolate the spectrum of a specific feature so it can be better compared to other known minerals.

The science meetings have been an exciting opportunity to see the Spirit science team in action. At each morning?s Science Context Meeting, we have been briefed on the previous day?s results while scientists quietly look at the data to find interesting targets in SAP (the Science Activity Planner). As soon as this meeting adjourns, there is a flurry of activity while members of the different STGs (science theme groups) meet to create activity plans for the rover and deal with any problems that arise. After the plans are made, we attend the SOWG meeting, where the team discusses the relative importance of the different observations and chooses some to delete. The fascinating End-of-Sol Science Discussion follows this, where the scientists carefully debate the merits of various courses of action. Currently, the issue has been whether to remain at Route 66, a Mazatzal-class rock, for part of a sol for scientific study or to begin immediately the 70-sol voyage to the East Hills Complex. Advocates of both possibilities have strong feelings on the matter, so the discussion is exciting!

04/07/04 (notes from Mr. Lineberger): Our team has had such a great week here at JPL! Adam and Craig have been as focused and excited as I have ever seen them, and I have known them both for five years. I?m sure that this experience as Athena Student Interns participants has greatly enriched their lives. I have long known that a real-world (or in this case, out-of-this-world) scientific experience is the most effective form of science education. As our mentor, Dr. Jeff Moersch ,has pointed out, most classroom based education is a ?back of the book? type experience during which the students learn by looking up the answers. Here at JPL the boys have watched and participated in the greatest and most challenging problem-solving adventure that one can imagine; the design and delivery of the rovers to Mars and investigation of geology that has never been seen before through the senses of a robot 100 million miles away. Each different phase of this mission can stand alone as one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind. Such great things can only happen because many of the greatest minds in the world functioning as one team. Yes, the JPL people are certainly strong willed and very able individuals, but it is their teamwork that has made this possible. I hope that this lesson is not lost on our students

Now, our team will try to bring as many of the great facets of our Athena Student Interns experience back to other students in our hometown. Adam and Craig are already very good at passing on their enthusiasm and knowledge to others. They will become better at this because of the time they have spent here!
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