Mars Pathfinder Landing Site II Workshop and Field Trip to the Channeled Scablands of Washington

September 24 - 30, 1995


by K.S. Edgett, 26 March 1995

Mars Pathfinder and the Channeled Scablands of Washington

On July 4, 1997, NASA's Mars Pathfinder spacecraft will touch down on the Red Planet at the mouth of a giant flood channel, Ares Valles. This new Mars mission presents exciting possibilities for enhancing science education and literacy for a generation of children too young to remember the Viking Mars landings of 1976.

Ares Valles appears to be similar, though much larger, than the Channeled Scablands of central and eastern Washington State. The Scablands resulted from the catastrophic release of water from the Ice Age Lake Missoula, which once covered parts of Montana and Idaho. The floods carved up the landscape of Washington and poured down the Columbia River gorge that borders Oregon and Washington, approximately 13,000 years ago.

The landscapes of central and eastern Washington may be very similar to the landscape that Mars Pathfinder will see when it lands on Mars in 1997. The landing site is thought to be a huge, flat deposit of sediment brought down by the giant martian floods that formed Ares Valles. Mars Pathfinder will be able to determine the composition of rocks and soils brought to the landing site by this ancient flood, using an array of instruments that include a stereo camera that can "see" in 24 different colors. Mars Pathfinder also sports a small, six-wheeled vehicle, termed a "microrover," that will drive around the landing site and test the composition of rocks using an x-ray and alpha-particle detector.

Field Trips and Workshop will Include K-12 Teachers

In September 1995, Mars scientists and Mars Pathfinder engineers are going to the state of Washington to examine the Channeled Scablands and discuss the geology and physical nature of the Ares Valles landing site. The event will span an entire week, from Sunday, September 24th through Saturday, September 30th.

There are two field trips planned to examine the Scablands, the first runs September 24 through 27 and is based out of Moses Lake, Washington. This first field trip will include a 3-hour overflight in an aircraft over the Channeled Scablands terrain. The trip is led by Dr. Victor Baker of the University of Arizona, an expert on the Channeled Scablands and flood channels on Mars. The trip is followed by the Mars Pathfinder Landing Site II Workshop, which will be held in Spokane, Washington, September 28 and 29. A second field trip is planned for September 30 to examine the region east of Spokane where Lake Missoula first burst and began the massive floods that carved the Scablands.

This combined field trip and workshop is unique because it will also involve participation from K-12 teachers. Indeed, the main goal of the first field trip (September 24-27) is to bring together K-12 teachers from Washington and Idaho plus Mars Pathfinder scientists and engineers and provide a forum for direct interaction between the two groups. An education grant from NASA's Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program has been made available to allow the participation in the September 24-27 field trip of approximately 10 K-12 educators from Washington and Idaho. Following the field trip, educators will be expected to share the experience with students, parents, and teachers in their community. The deadline for applicants is March 31, 1995.

Workshop and Field Trip Contacts

The Mars Pathfinder Landing Site II Workshop of September 28-29 is being convened by Dr. Matthew P. Golombek of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Golombek is the Project Scientist for the Mars Pathfinder mission.

The Field Trips to the Channeled Scablands September 24-27 and September 30 are being convened by Dr. Kenneth S. Edgett and Mr. James W. Rice, Jr., of Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, Arizona. Edgett is the director of the Arizona Mars K-12 Education Program, an outreach effort centered on the educational aspects of the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder missions. Rice is a Ph.D. candidate in ASU's Department of Geography.

The Field Trips will be led by Dr. Victor R. Baker of the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. Baker is one of the world's leading experts on the Channeled Scablands of Washington, and has done extensive work on the nature of channels found elsewhere on Earth, Mars, and Venus.

The Field Trips are also being assisted by an educator from Idaho. Ms. Jo Dodds of O'Leary Jr. High School, Twin Falls, Idaho, serves as an advisor to the Field Trip conveners and will help in the selection of teacher participants.

The Field Trips and Workshop logistics, registration, and conference publications are coordinated by the Lunar and Planetary Institute of Houston, Texas.

After the Workshop and Field Trips

A semi-technical summary of the field trip adn workshop experience, including written reports from the K-12 teachers, will be published by the Lunar and Planetary Institute in late October or early November. The reports written by teachers will ellaborate on how their experience was subsequently shared with their students, parents, and other teachers in their community.

Arizona Mars K-12 Education Program / K. Edgett