Three Indian boys are among the 9 student scientists selected by the Planetary Society, USA, from over 10,000 entrants worldwide to serve on the Planetary Society’s Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission. The boys are:

Shaleen 15 year old Shaleen Rajendra Hartalka, from Udaipur, Rajasthan in the senior group
13 year old Tanmay Sanjay Khirwadkar, of Nagpur, Maharashtra, in the Junior group Tanmay
Vikas 10 year old Vikas Sarangadhara of Bangalore in the Sophomore group

Of the other six students selected, two are from Hungary and one each from USA, Brazil, Taiwan and Poland. Of the nine selected are four girls and five boys. The nine students were chosen from a field of 80 semi-finalist representing sixteen nations. In all, 44 nations participated in the contest.

These students will actually programme a camera on a spacecraft in orbit around Mars to take pictures of the surface and will select a possible landing site on Mars for the future sample return mission. The student scientists will work with imaging data from NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars to choose a candidate landing site on Mars. In early 2001, they will travel to Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California. There, they will take pictures of their site on Mars with the MGS Mars Orbiter Camera. The imaging will be carried out under the supervision of Michael Malin and Ken Edgett, whose recent announcement of evidence for seepage of Martian groundwater stunned the world.

The idea of student participation in a real Planetary Exploration Mission was mooted by Planetary Society, USA with funding from LEGO Company and other sponsors and in cooperation with NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Milan Space Science Systems.

It may be noted that ISRO, as the national coordinator, had forwarded to the Planetary Society 12 essays from India, two from the Sophomore Group and four each from Junior and Senior groups. The 12 essays were selected after a national level evaluation during which about 37 students from all over the country made presentation at ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore during August 22-23, 2000. The various regional centres (Science City, Chennai, Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi, Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum, Bangalore, Regional Science Centre, Bhopal, Raman Science Centre, Nagpur, Inter University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai, Regional Science Centre, Calicut, Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Calcutta, Regional Science Centre, Lucknow, Regional Science Centre, Bhubaneshwar, Kerala Academy of Sciences, Thiruvananthapuram, Regional Science Centre, Guwahati, Kurukshetra Panorama & Science Centre, Kurukshetra and Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre, Ahmedabad) had made the preliminary selection of students before final evaluation by ISRO. Subsequent to submission of the essays from these selected 12 students, the Planetary Society interviewed the three students whose essays were selected by them.