As NASA embarks on new missions to Mars in search of
evidence of life, students now have access to virtual tools
that will help them understand the conditions that make human
life possible on Earth and how to design a habitable
fictional planet.

On July 1, 2003, three new modules were added to NASA’s
award-winning Astro-Venture Web site developed at NASA’s Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., as part of NASA’s
educational goal to inspire students to pursue careers in
math, science and technology. The site is an educational,
interactive, multimedia Web environment in which fifth
through eighth grade students emulate NASA occupations and
use scientific inquiry, to search for and design planets with
the necessary characteristics for human habitation. The
original astronomy unit and the three new modules – geology,
biology and Earth Science, complete the Earth system science
unit for middle school students.

“Astro-Venture is an excellent tool to assist educators in
delivering exciting NASA research to our future generation of
explorers,” said Donald James, NASA Ames Education Director.
“The site exposes students to the compelling topic of
astrobiology and the wide variety of careers that support
this area of research.” Astrobiology is the study of the
origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the

Guided by the animated character ‘Astro Ferret,’ students
explore the environmental features that help Earth support
human life. They then engage in standards-based classroom
lessons that emphasize why these features are necessary,
before embarking on mission modules that simulate how NASA
scientists are searching for habitable planets. The Web site
uses multimedia features such as video, animation and
graphics to keep students engaged and stimulated to explore
each learning module.

The new modules, continue the multimedia-rich, inquiry-based
standard set by the original astronomy unit, which includes
two astronomy multimedia modules, an astronomy educator guide
of inquiry-based classroom activities, and a wealth of career
fact sheets.

In the atmospheric science module, students can manipulate
the amount of different gasses in our atmosphere and draw
conclusions as to which proportions are necessary for human
survival. Students also engage in activities that explain the
properties of gases and chemical reactions. In geology,
students learn about the structure of the Earth, volcanoes
and the formation and recycling of rocks. The biology unit
covers the ‘web of life,’ which explains how all creatures
are dependent on each other.

“The completion of these three new modules provides students
with a unique opportunity to explore the Earth as a system,”
said Christina O’Guinn, NASA Ames’ educational team lead.
“Students view the Earth from the perspective of
astrobiologists and see how all areas of science are
interrelated. They come away with an appreciation of their
planet and the complex systems on Earth that support human

To help teachers implement the lessons in the classroom,
astronomy and atmosphere educator guides are currently
available, and geology and biology guides are being
developed. Astro-Venture lessons are designed to meet
national education standards.

Since its launch on Feb. 1, 2003, Astro-Venture has been
recognized by the educational community with an ‘A+’ review
by Education World, Wallingford, Conn. and with the Star
Award from the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles for
excellence in promoting astronomy. Astro-Venture has been
included in the Gender and Science Digital Library Project
conducted by the Educational Development Center, Newton,
Mass., the Digital Dozen Project conducted by the Eisenhower
National Clearinghouse, Columbus, Ohio and in an educational
exhibit at the Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem.

For information about the NASA Education Enterprise and
programs, visit:

For information about NASA on the Internet, visit:

For information about Astro-Venture, visit:

For information about NASA Astrobiology Institute, visit: