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January 23, 2002
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Contact: Kathleen Holmay 301-942-9595

Middle and High School Students Can Be Part of NASA Mission

Two new curriculum units for middle and high school students are being offered free of charge on-line at Called Excavating Cratering and Collaborative Decision Making, the modules have been developed as part of the NASA Deep Impact mission. Both units allow students to get involved with a NASA mission that is currently in development.

Excavating Cratering asks students to answer the same question that Deep Impact mission scientists are dealing with: How do you make a football field-sized crater, seven stories deep, in a comet? Students brainstorm about what factors influence crater size, evaluate their ideas and design their own experiments. The unit is designed to engage students in conducting scientific inquiries and in gaining greater understanding of scientific modeling.

Collaborative Decision Making lets students compare the risks of varying courses of action confronting scientists and engineers who are part of the Deep Impact mission. It asks students to clarify and research a specific issue, justify their approaches and advocate for alternate viewpoints. They also agree on a way for coming to consensus.

A NASA Discovery Mission, Deep Impact is six years long from planning through impact. It is the first space mission designed to hit a comet, Tempel 1. Launch of the Deep Impact spacecraft is scheduled for January 2004 and the encounter with Tempel 1 is scheduled for July 4, 2005. A 770-pound (350-kg) copper cylinder will hit the comet and send electronic data and images back to Earth. Scientists will analyze cometary debris exposed by the impact for many years.

Excavating Cratering was developed by Gretchen Walker, Education and Outreach Coordinator of the University of Maryland Astronomy Department. Collaborative Decision Making was developed McREL, Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. Both incorporate the National Science Education Standards, particularly in regard to focusing on inquiry in science classrooms. Each unit takes from two to three weeks and portions can be done in less time.

The University of Maryland, the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. are partners in the Deep Impact mission. Principal scientist, Mike A'Hearn of Maryland's Astronomy Department, says, "The major goal of the mission is to understand what's deep inside a comet in order to get an historic view of the universe. Seeing inside the comet will reveal a great deal about the development of the solar system." The general public will be able to participate in the Deep Impact mission over the Internet.

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