Press Release

International Student Team Selected to Work in Mars Rover Mission Operations

By SpaceRef Editor
November 6, 2003
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The Planetary Society has chosen sixteen Student Astronauts to work with the Mars Exploration Rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory when the twin rovers touch down on Mars in January 2004.

The Student Astronauts are part of The Planetary Society’s Red Rover Goes to Mars project, run in partnership with the LEGO Company.  The project is an official part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission. 

The young people — eight boys, eight girls, aged 13 to 17 — won their places on the team through a Planetary Society run essay contest, followed by oral interviews.  This is the first time that an international group of children selected through an open competition will be able to participate in an active planetary spacecraft mission.  It complements NASA student programs that encourage the next generation of explorers to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math interests by promoting the spirit of international cooperation in discovery.

The winning students hail from twelve nations spread through five continents: Brazil, Canada, Hungary, India, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“We set out looking for the ‘right stuff’ and we got it,” said Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society’s Director of Projects.  “The sixteen extraordinary kids who will be interacting with the Mars Exploration Rover mission team represent, and will communicate with, a whole world of young space enthusiasts.”

“Space exploration has the ability to stimulate creativity, expand the imagination, and push back the limits of what is possible for an entire generation.  That is why the LEGO Company joined forces with The Planetary Society and we are delighted by the response this project has received from young people,” said Brad Justus of the LEGO Company. 

Student Astronauts will work with the scientists and engineers overseeing the science payload on the Mars Exploration Rovers, including the panoramic cameras and the magnets, and will analyze new data returned from the rovers.  The Student Astronauts will rotate through JPL in teams of two, with each pair spending approximately one week at the facility. 

For a few months of the mission, the students will participate every Martian day in examining pictures from the rovers and attending team meetings with scientists and engineers, grappling with choices about what orders to send the rovers. The Student Astronauts will also serve as ambassadors to the world at large, communicating over the Internet and through other media about life inside a Mars mission team.

The individual interests of the Student Astronauts are as diverse as their backgrounds, ranging from fencing to soccer and theater to violin. However, they all share a common bond in their fascination with space exploration and commitment to high achievement.

“I can’t think of anything more amazing than exploring space and other planets,” said Student Astronaut Courtney Dressing of the USA.

The Student Astronaut Team:

  • Saatvik Agarwal (14) India
  • Shih-Han Chen (17) Taiwan
  • Cheng-Tao Chung (13) Taiwan
  • Janice deBerg (15) USA
  • Susini de Silva (17) Sri Lanka
  • Courtney Dressing (15) USA
  • Abigail Fraeman (16) USA
  • Maciej Hermanowicz (16) Poland
  • Tomas Kogan (14) Spain
  • Nomathemba Kontyo (15) South Africa
  • Wei Lin Tan (14) Singapore
  • Rafael Morozowski (16) Brazil
  • Vignan Pattamatta (14) India
  • Kristyn Rodzinyak (16) Canada
  • David Turczi (15) Hungary
  • Camillia Zedan (16) United Kingdom

Honorable Mention Winners:

  • Ching-Tsung Wei (15) Taiwan
  • Juan Colmenares (14) Venezuela
  • Pedro de Freitas (13) Venezuela
  • Soren Nielsen (16) Denmark
  • Afzal Saif (16) India
  • Roshan Shankar (13) India
  • Carmen Vasquez (14) USA

In the words of Maciej Hermanowicz of Poland, “Exploring the unknown is a wonderful adventure and a huge new experience, and I simply cannot wait to taste it.”

We look forward to following the adventure of Mars exploration through the eyes of these 16 extraordinary young people.

Personal essays by and about all the winning students are available on The Planetary Society’s website at



Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With members in over 125 countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.  For more information, visit


The LEGO Company, based in Billund, Denmark, and family-owned and privately held since 1932, is a world leader in providing quality products and experiences that stimulate children’s creativity, imagination and learning. For more information visit


The Mars Exploration Rover mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, on behalf of NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.   Additional information about the project is available from JPL at and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at


Susan Lendroth

Manager of Events and Communications

The Planetary Society

Phone:(626)793-5100 ext. 237   Fax:(626)793-5528

Warren Betts or Monica Gillen

Warren Betts Communications

Phone: (626)836-2080  Fax: (626)836-3040


Francis Thomas, Senior Director

Global Media Affairs, Global Brand Relations

LEGO Company

Phone: +44 (0) 1753 495109  Mobile: +44 (0) 7966667396



Dates in Pasadena, California*

*Interviews may be scheduled in advance of arrival, and phone interviews may be scheduled when students are still in their home countries.  Contact Susan Lendroth (626)793-5100:

December 30-January 11

Courtney Dressing (USA)

Rafael Morozowski (Brazil)

January 9-18

Susini de Silva (Sri Lanka)

Tomas Kogan (Spain)

January 16-27

Abigail Fraeman (USA)

Shih-Han Chen (Taiwan)

January 22 – February 1

Vignan Pattamatta (India)

Wei Lin Tan (Singapore)

January 30-February 8

Janice DeBerg (USA)

Maciej Hermanowicz (Poland)

February 6-15

Saatvik Agarwal (India)

David Turczi (Hungary)

February 13-22

Cheng-Tao Chung (Taiwan)

Kristyn Rodzinyak (Canada)

February 20-29

Nomathemba Kontyo (South Africa)

Camillia Zedan (United Kingdom)

SpaceRef staff editor.