Students from Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, London had Saturn in their eyes as they were recently set the challenge by NASA and the Ideas Foundation to become “Scientist for the Day” and select an image for NASA’s controllers to acquire with the Cassini spacecraft which is currently orbiting Saturn and its moons.

The young scientists told the Cassini cameras where to point between 7.03 and 7.49 UTC on April 13 2007. Relative to Saturn, the spacecraft was traveling at 7,494 miles per hour and was 1.08 million miles from Saturn. Students had to convince scientists which images the spacecraft should take and why.

The winner of the essay competition was fifteen year old Sarah Avery from Morpeth School. Experts from NASA and Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) were dazzled by Sarah’s exquisite rhetoric and the case that she made for an image which she argued shows the sheer breathtaking beauty of science.” Sarah says, “The Cassini image will show Saturn as natural, untainted and untouched. It would be lovely to think that we would not exploit any resources that are discovered but just to gaze in awe and wonder at the beauty of science and discovery.”

Professor Carl Murray, a UK member of the Cassini imaging team was impressed by the quality of the entries. Professor Murray said, “I think that Sarah Avery’s case was an excellent piece of writing. Image 1 would not have been my own personal choice on the basis of scientific return, but her arguments and her case are very persuasive.”

Professor Murray also singled out for praise Mahmoda Coli Yasmin, also from Morpeth School, and Danielle Walker from Dartford Grammar School. James Follows aged 6 from St. Michaels CE Primary School received an honorable mention as the youngest entrant. Professor Murray said “I am amazed by the quality and diversity of the arguments that have been made in support of each image. Clearly each participant has thought carefully about the scientific issues before making their case. This is exactly the same process that Cassini scientists have to go through.”

Winning students were able to view the images they selected on a giant computer screen at Queen Mary, University of London recently. They also took part in a video conference where they were able to quiz NASA and QMUL experts about the images and what they might reveal. Sarah and the runners up will have a priceless record of their work — a limited edition print of the image signed by Professor Murray. NASA is delighted with the competition and with the support they have received from Queen Mary, University of London and the Ideas Foundation in setting the challenge to UK Students. New curriculum materials based on the project and the winning essays will soon be available on the NASA websites. And more students will soon have another opportunity to make space exploration history as NASA gives more students a chance to tell the Cassini cameras where to point in November 2007.

The winning images have been processed at the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations, or CICLOPS, and released to the public on the CICLOPS website,

Morpeth is taking part in the Ideas Foundation Creative Space program being supported by the Sir John Cass Foundation, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, and the Royal Aeronautical Society. Students will soon be visiting the House of Commons to create their ‘case for space’ and will then be embarking on two further space missions — a Red Dragons day where they pitch for a mission to Mars at the National Maritime Museum and a summer school hosted by Queen Mary, University of London where students will work with leading scientists and engineers to plan a mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Students who excel during the competition will have an opportunity to visit NASA centers in Houston and Florida and present their ideas to NASA staff in a visit arranged by the International Space School Education Trust.

Robin Wight, Chairman of WCRS Advertising and founder of the Ideas Foundation says “This program has provided an out of this world experience for young people and really helped them to see the beauty and creativity within the world of science.”

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team consists of scientists from the U.S., England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team leader (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.