NASA will host thousands of local students to learn about the latest from Mars as part of the 2006 JASON Expedition, “Mysteries of Earth and Mars.”

From Monday, Jan. 30 through Friday, Feb. 3, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., will become a ‘hub’ of space exploration for more than 7,200 middle school students, teachers and parents. NASA’s guests will interact with famed oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, student and teacher ‘Argonauts’ and leading planetary scientists from locations across the country during interactive broadcasts.

“Mars has captured the imagination of students nationwide and around the world,” said Laura Shawnee, informal education manager at Ames. “JASON 2006 will fuel that imagination and help inspire future Mars explorers.”

This year’s broadcasts will originate from Hawaii, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Arizona’s Meteor Crater and Mono Lake in central California.

After the broadcast, students will move to JASON City, located in Hangar N211, to participate in more than 17 activities designed to reinforce what the students have learned in their classrooms and during the broadcasts. The activities range from an interactive computer flyby of Mars, to navigating a rover through an obstacle course and using microscopes to view primitive life forms living on microbial mats.

Recent findings from NASA’s Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and orbiting satellites hint at the presence of liquid water, either in Mars’ ancient past or preserved in the subsurface. With water being a key ingredient for life, the JASON curriculum highlights the role water plays in shaping life on Earth and applies that knowledge to the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

Students also will study the cutting-edge research and technology involved in a robotic mission to Mars, the efforts to send humans to the red planet and how scientists use Mars analogs: locations on Earth where environmental conditions, geological features or biological attributes resemble Mars.

Now in its 17th year, the JASON project is a multi-disciplinary education program designed to spark the imagination of students and enhance the classroom experience. Previous JASON expeditions have highlighted the Earth’s polar regions, active volcanoes, ocean depths, dense tropical rain forests and endangered wetlands.

“JASON week is always a special time here at NASA Ames,” said Will Shaw, JASON coordinator at Ames. “It is even more exciting this year with the close NASA education and JASON Foundation collaboration encouraging kids to study Mars.”

NASA Ames has hosted the JASON broadcasts and JASON City for the past 12 years and trained 315 teachers for this year’s JASON expedition. Due to a record number of participants, the Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos, Calif., a NASA Ames educational partner, will host an additional 500 visitors.

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