MarsQuest Online - Innovative Web Site Brings Mars Exploration to Desktops

February 24, 2004

David Shepard

TERC, Space Science Institute and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are enhancing the availability all Mars rover images for students and the public, by distributing them via the MarsQuest Online website ( MarsQuest Online extends the power of NASAÂ’s very popular website ( by linking all images into an integrated Mars exploration and education environment.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, MarsQuest Online enables anyone with an Internet connection to participate in the adventure of Mars exploration. With its visually intuitive, point-and-click navigation system, MarsQuest Online makes the full set of images from Spirit and Opportunity readily available for public exploring. The site is automatically updated with new images within seconds of their arrival to Earth. MarsQuest Online exemplifies how inquiry-based learning and public engagement enable everyone to experience the thrill of exploration and discovery.

Dr. Eric De Jong, Co-Principal Investigator of MarsQuest Online, and head of JPL’s Science Data Visualization and Modeling team indicated that MarsQuest Online represents “NASA's vision of 21st century exploration through the Internet, a shared experience of scientists, students, and the public. The rovers’ eyes are our eyes, and MarsQuest Online puts these eyes on your desktop.”

MarsQuest Online enables students, educators and the general public to gain a sense of what it's like to explore another world. According to Principal Investigator Daniel Barstow (TERC), MarsQuest Online was created “to provide the public with a highly engaging and interactive experience while learning about Mars by directly exploring it, just as the scientists do.”

“The design of MarsQuest Online is based on extensive research on the most effective methods of using images and visualizations as tools by students and the general public,” said Barstow, who also serves as Director of TERC’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning. Barstow emphasized that “research findings show that most people can grasp concepts more quickly and intuitively by interacting with visual imagery than by simply reading text. With MarsQuest Online, students experience authentic science, venturing into the unknown, asking questions and pursuing answers.”

Students learn about Mars by examining the most recent panoramic views of the two landing sites and the images of rocks and soil investigated by the instruments on the rovers' robotic arms. They can also follow the progress of the rovers as they navigate around the martian surface. Site visitors will learn about Mars and the search for water through an array of interactive learning activities, such as driving a simulated rover and 3-D virtual flyovers of prominent martian features. These activities support key elements of the National Science Education Standards, including core concepts of Earth and space science.

Adults also appreciate the site, with its daily updates and its intuitive point-and-click interface. The images are visually organized so novice and expert users can easily navigate across the martian landscape through the eyes of the rovers. The site also provides current news about important scientific findings.

MarsQuest Online is funded by the National Science Foundation Informal Science Education Division. TERC, a non-profit educational research and development company in Cambridge, MA provided overall leadership and developed the exploration design and educational activities. Space Science Institute, a science and education research organization in Boulder, CO, implemented the web-based software. Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars Exploration Program for NASA and provided the technical expertise on Mars rovers and the rover imaging systems. Internet mirroring support for high-bandwidth use of this site is provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO., and the San Diego Supercomputing Center.

We encourage everyone to go Mars exploring with MarsQuest Online!

MarsQuest Online: