Press Release

Students Can Search for a Habitable Planet on a New NASA Website

By SpaceRef Editor
January 29, 2002
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NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: Reporters are invited to attend the
Space Foundation’s ‘Space in the Classroom’ conference Feb. 1 at the Golden
State Museum in Sacramento, Calif., to learn about a new NASA website on
which students can search for a fictional, habitable planet. This website
will be described by Christina O’Guinn of NASA’s Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, Calif. Her presentations on Feb. 1 will be from 9:15 a.m. to
10:30 a.m. and from 10:45 a.m. to noon PST. The conference will be held
from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST on Feb. 1 and from 7 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. PST on
Feb. 2. The Golden State Museum is one block south of the state capital
building at 10th and O Streets. Please bring press credentials to gain

Searching for a fictional planet on which people could live is one of the
student activities available on a new NASA website that will open for
business on Feb.1 at:

‘Astro ferret,’ a cartoon character, will guide students through a series
of role-playing steps on the multi-media, interactive website. Young people
using the ‘Astro-venture’ website can observe the effects of changes to the
Earth and draw conclusions about what is needed for survival. Participants
can ‘feel’ that they are part of an Internet world by receiving information
seamlessly, through use of graphics, audio, video and audio transcriptions.

“Students in grades 5-8 are transported to the future where they role-play
NASA occupations and use scientific inquiry, as they search for and
eventually build a planet with the necessary characteristics for human
habitation,” said Christina O’Guinn of the educational technology team at
NASA Ames Research Center, in California’s Silicon Valley. “Supporting
activities include Internet webcasts with real NASA scientists, online
collaborations, classroom lessons, a student publishing area and
occupation-related fact sheets and trading cards.”

Webcasts enable students to watch live video, listen to audio and interact
in real-time on the Internet with experts. The webcasts’ URL is:
Two one-hour Astro-venture webcasts will take place in April. The first,
‘Habitable Planets,’ will be on April 2 at 10 a.m. PST. The second,
‘Doppler Shift,’ will take place on April 9 at 10 a.m. PDT.

“Our goal is to inspire students to pursue science, math and technology
careers by engaging them in an extremely compelling topic, astrobiology, in
a way that is very relevant to them, focusing on Earth and human survival,”
said Donald James, education director at NASA Ames. Astrobiology is the
study of the origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the
universe. “Research shows that it is crucial to capture students’ interest
in science before they reach high school,” he said.

O’Guinn will describe the ‘Astro-venture’ website to as many as 150
teachers who will be attending a ‘Space in the Classroom’ conference Feb. 1
– 2 at the Golden State Museum in Sacramento, Calif.

The conference, for K-12 educators, is sponsored by the California Space
Authority and will be hosted by the Space Foundation of Colorado Springs,
Colo. More information about the conference can be found at:

The astronomy section of NASA’s new website zeros in on our solar system’s
astronomical characteristics that make it livable to human beings.

“Students test cause-and-effect relationships to discover the
characteristics that allow Earth to remain habitable. Students also will
explore hands-on, inquiry-based lessons on states of matter and systems and
then complete a mission in which they simulate the process scientists might
use to find a planet that would be habitable to humans,” said O’Guinn.

Students can participate in the NASA-sponsored Astro-venture Internet
events without pre-registering. There is no charge.

The Astro-venture lessons meet national education standards and provide a
purpose for understanding concepts such as states of matter. “Since we need
liquid water to survive, we need to understand how liquid water is
different from solid and gas and what conditions allow for water to be a
liquid,” O’Guinn explained. The website also highlights NASA careers and
astrobiology research in astronomy, geology, biology and atmospheric

According to web team members, they are developing the website to meet
educational standards, research-based instructional methods and the
constraints of today’s classrooms. The team includes instructional
designers, graphic artists, multimedia programmers and web developers who
work with NASA scientists, including some astrobiologists and their support
personnel from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which is headquartered, at
NASA Ames.

Astrobiologists at NASA Ames are studying the organic chemistry of space,
the formation of planetary systems, and the early history of the Earth, one
NASA astrobiologist explained. These scientists investigate the origin of
life and explore the most extreme environments that support life, from
boiling hot springs to cold Antarctic rocks. Astrobiologists analyze
martian meteorites for possible fossil evidence of life and carry out
experiments in evolutionary biology using space shuttle flights.

“NASA Ames also is beginning a collaboration with California State
University, Hayward, educational technology graduate students who are
rapid-prototyping other modules and curriculum,” O’Guinn said.

SpaceRef staff editor.