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NASA Mars Exploration Program
Mars Exploration Program
MSIP: Steps To Mars
Mars Student Imaging Project Read the Overview Compare Formats Express Interest Download Materials Read FAQs Want Training? Contact Staff

Who is Eligible to Participate in the Mars Student Imaging Project?
With an adult facilitator, students in grades 5 through college sophomore level can participate.Teams must be U.S. schools.  In some circumstances, classrooms in other countries can partner with a U.S. school, mimicking international cooperation in science.
Is MSIP only for Arizona schools?
No. MSIP is a national program.
Will I have enough support?
Teachers/leaders work closely with the Mars Education staff at Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility to administer MSIP in the classroom. MSIP staff serve as facilitators, working with you:
  • to determine the most appropriate time frames for participation;
  • to identify an MSIP activity format that best meets the needs of the classroom;
  • to conduct optional monthly teleconferences/video-conferences to increase teacher and student background knowledge about Mars; and,
  • to serve as project guides.
Contacts for MSIP Staff
How many students can be on a student team?
Teams must have a minimum of 8 students, but there is no maximum number of students.  However, make sure all students on the team are committed and dedicated members.
Can a group of students submit an MSIP proposal on their own?
No, students must have an adult facilitator to lead their team and follow a set of simple procedures.
How much does it cost to participate in MSIP?
Participation in MSIP is free.   However, students who participate in the on-site format must pay for their transportation, food, and lodging.  Many student teams conduct fund-raisers or receive local-business stipends to cover these additional costs.
What is the THEMIS camera?
THEMIS stands for Thermal Emission Imaging System. THEMIS is a visible and infrared camera. Students involved in MSIP should focus on visible wavelength images of Mars, as those focus on the morphology or landforms on the surface.
Are student teams really going to be able to use the THEMIS camera to image a site of their choice?
Yes.  Student teams that submit acceptable proposals will use the same targeting software that the THEMIS science team uses to target their own images of Mars.  This software (called JMARS) is sent on a CD-Rom. All on-site and distance learning teams that have an accepted proposal with an MSIP coordinator will be extended the opportunity to target an image using targeting software for the THEMIS camera.
How long will MSIP be available for student teams to participate?
MSIP will continue at least as long as the spacecraft and THEMIS camera remain healthy.

See also Step 2 to compare formats.


What is the on-site format?
After working in their classes to submit a proposal, students spend 3 days at the Mars Space Flight Facility to receive the Mars image they chose to take, learn how to use image-processing tools to enhance their image for better scientific study, and prepare a peer-tutoring presentations for students at their school who were unable to travel to the facility.
How many students can participate in the on-site format?
Student teams who come on-site should have 8 - 25 student representatives (chosen from a larger team, if necessary).  For effectiveness, a recommended number of student representatives is 15.
Where is the Mars Space Flight Facility?
The Mars Space Flight Facility is located on the campus of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, home to scientist Dr. Phil Christensen, Principal Investigator (PI) of the THEMIS camera.

Distance Learning

What are the benefits of the distance-learning format?
Teams take a new image of Mars and complete their research without leaving their school.Teams have the opportunity to communicate with scientists and Mars Education staff at the Mars Space Flight Facility via internet, video or teleconferences.
Will a school need special equipment to participate in the distance-learning format?
You will need a speaker phone that can be muted and a way to display a PowerPoint presentation. For internet or video conferences, you must have internet-connected computers.We would discuss your video-conference capabilities prior to connecting.

Independent Research

Can you explain the independent research format?
Students work more independently with their teacher than directly with the MSIP staff.Using archived data, teams analyze previously taken images of Mars.They do not propose to take a new one. Teachers and students can participate in nationwide MSIP teleconferences.

What procedures must be followed in order to be involved with MSIP?
The first step is for a teacher or adult facilitator to identify a potential format (onsite, distance learning, & independent research) that best matches their classroom interests.The second step is for a teacher or adult facilitator to submit an online Interest Form.
Depending on the format (onsite, distance learning, & independent research), a specific checklist and set of procedures guides student teams.
How do we know what research to do for this project?
The MSIP Resource Manual provides some starting background research. The MSIP Teacher's Manual provides suggestions for the adult facilitator to share with his/her team. MSIP website links give you many resources for your research, including THEMIS images.
How can we be sure to submit a proposal written in an appropriate format?
We encourage you to use a Proposal Outline provided in the Teacher Procedures. See a great example of MSIP team proposal.
Are student proposals at different grade levels evaluated with the same criteria?
No.Students in grades 5 through college sophomore level can participate in MSIP. Students in upper grades submit proposals with a higher degree of science background than students in the lower grades.Undergraduates who participate in MSIP are evaluated separately from standards-aligned assessments for grades 5-12.
Do all student teams image a site on Mars?
On-site and distance-learning teams propose to image a site on Mars.If the proposal is accepted, they will be able to use the THEMIS visible camera.Accepted teams receive the software necessary to choose a site on Mars that supports their research and then target the camera on it.
How do the MSIP teams know what site on Mars to image using the THEMIS camera?
With MSIP staff assistance, student teams find features on Mars that enable them to gather evidence relevant to answering their scientific question. About two weeks before students conduct the on-site or distance-learning portion of their project, they examine the spacecraft's orbital track and make a final choice of the site they would like to image.
How do the student teams get their targeted THEMIS image?
On-site teams acquire their image and download it from the spacecraft log while at the Mars Space Flight Facility. Distance-learning teams will be emailed their THEMIS image.Independent research teams select a previously acquired image from an online catalogue of images.
What will the THEMIS image look like?
Many examples of THEMIS visible images are available at the THEMIS website.
Once student teams receive their image, is the project over?
Not at all. That's when the fun of determining research findings happens.

Once student teams receive their image and begin to analyze it (and other archived images of Mars), they look at their original research question and use these images to gather data allowing them to answer their question.

Once students finish conducting their research, they submit a final report and an MSIP Team Results outline for consideration for publication on the MSIP website.