Sonja Alexander

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1761)

Ann Hutchison

Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Keith Koehler

Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA

(Phone: 757/824-1579)

RELEASE: 00-79

A 21st century, space-age simulated Mars soil and one of the
world’s oldest food sources — the potato — have been joined in
an experiment that will fly aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis when the
STS-101 mission is launched later this month. The experiment,
designed by Native American science students, will test how well
the soil supports plant growth.

Students from Shoshone-Bannock High School on the Fort Hall
Indian Reservation in southeastern Idaho will compare the plants
grown in the synthetic dirt on Earth with those that fly in space.
The simulated soil, known as JSC Mars-1, closely resembles the red
dirt found on the surface of Mars. The coarse powder — about the
color of cinnamon — is similar to what scientists know about the
color, density, grain size, porosity, chemical composition,
mineralogy and magnetic properties of Martian soil.

Known as “Spuds in Space,” the experiment will be the first
test of the soil simulant as a medium for growing plants in space.
It also marks the second time Native American students have flown
an experiment on the Shuttle. The first Native American science
experiment in space — also from Shoshone-Bannock High School —
flew on Discovery in 1998.

“As an educator, I am always looking for ways to get students
interested in science and life,” said Shoshone-Bannock science
teacher Ed Galindo. “This Mars soil simulant is an exciting way
for students from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation to keep getting
excited about space, science and growth, both plant and student.”

The potato experiment will be one of 10 experiments flying as
part of the Space Experiment Module (SEM) program, an educational
initiative to increase access to space for students from
kindergarten through college. Since its first flight in 1995, SEM
has allowed tens of thousands of students in the United States and
other countries to fly their experiments in space. The SEM
program is managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops
Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA.

“These simulants are natural materials that approximate, to
the best of our current knowledge, the soils of the Moon and
Mars,” explained Dr. Carlton Allen of Lockheed Martin Space
Operations, Houston, TX. He was part of the NASA Johnson Space
Center, university and private industry teams that developed the
simulated soils, including one — JSC-1 — based on lunar samples
collected by Apollo crews. “Future sample return missions will
bring us actual Mars soil and rock samples, which may pave the way
for eventual human missions,” Allen said. In the meantime, JSC
Mars-1 is supporting a wide range of research, instrument design
and engineering studies.

NASA encourages the use of its soil simulants in educational
activities and is offering both JSC Mars-1 and JSC-1 to
scientists, engineers and educators for only the cost of shipping.
Those interested in obtaining samples of either simulant should
send their request to the Office of the Curator, NASA Johnson
Space Center, Houston, TX 77058.

Additional information on the SEM program can be found at: