Teens from Russia and New York see Mars at ASU

William Hermann -- The Arizona Republic -- Nov. 12, 2003

Two teenagers traveled from Russia to New York to Tempe to see Mars.

Alina Mamlyasova and Sipan Petrosyan, both 15-year-old secondary school students from Chekhov, Russia, were invited by the 23 science club members of New York's Saratoga Springs High School to join them in a trip to Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility. There they all would study the latest pictures being beamed to Earth by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

Students from New York's Saratoga 
Springs High School, (from left) 
Rachel Flichtbeil, Marie Henebry 
and Simone Leduc, count craters on Mars.

For more than two decades, ASU has been deeply involved in America's space effort and for several years has involved students outside the university in the study of space. 

The Russian and New York students spent last week at the facility looking for evidence of the existence of water on Mars as they examined the morphology and features found in craters. The trip came about because a high school teacher who believes strongly in science and just as strongly in world peace and mutual human understanding made it happen - with the help of ASU scientists.

"Well, about two years ago I was flattered that a bunch of our students with a deep interest in science and space asked me to be the sponsor of a science club," said Saratoga Springs High School Earth science teacher Charlie Kuenzel, who accompanied the students to ASU.

Once the club was formed, Kuenzel helped the students with various science projects and looked for ways to bring NASA space research projects home to his students. 

Kuenzel wanted to make an international outreach because, he said, he believes passionately that "it's hard to have a war with someone you know and appreciate and like."

Last year, Kuenzel found out about ASU and NASA's Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP) and contacted the university. 

ASU spokesman James Hathaway said Kuenzel then submitted a proposal for his students to come to the university, including specific science issues his students would like to study. Once the proposal was accepted, the students completed a multi-week science curriculum, supported by science education specialists at ASU's Mars Education Program. 

MSIP is a NASA-funded science education program that allows elementary, middle and high school classes to do real-life planetary exploration and study using the NASA 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) visible light camera. The program has been running since 2002, and approximately 30 classes participate in the program each year.

Once Kuenzel had things lined up with ASU, he made contact with a secondary school in Saratoga Springs' sister city, Chekhov, which is on the outskirts of Moscow.

He talked to science teacher Sergey Pankratrov and arranged for two top students to join the New York kids on a trip to ASU.

During September and October, using distance-learning technology, the Russian and American kids studied together to prepare for the trip. 

Hour after hour last week, the students sat at computer monitors and studied the images beamed back from Mars. They were obviously enthralled.

"We are analyzing the spread of debris in that crater down there," Mamlyasova said as she and Petrosyan sat glued to a monitor. "These pictures are so detailed; better than anything we've seen. We are learning about Mars in detail and are very glad to have an opportunity to see images coming back to us."

Saratoga Springs student Ryan Dobler, 15, said he and the other students were dazzled by the clarity and resolution of the pictures the Mars spacecraft was sending back to them. And he was also dazzled by the fact that they were viewing these images before scientists anywhere had an opportunity to see them.

"I've always had an interest in science -- all of us here have -- and this is just a great opportunity," Dobler said. 

Outside the room, Phil Christensen, an ASU professor and one of the world's pre-eminent space scientists, gazed happily at the budding scientists. Christensen designed the THEMIS instrument aboard the Odyssey.

"They are the future," Christensen said. "A few of them have said they like ASU and would like to come here, and we'd love to have them."