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Mars in sight

by Lisa Scott
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 28/05) - Robyn Mitchell could see the first human live on the planet Mars within her lifetime.

That piece of information, which came directly from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), has the Grade 8 student buzzing.

"It's exciting. It's something new," said Mitchell, who was told by Alain Berinstain of the CSA that life on Mars could happen within 40 years.

Mitchell was part of a group of Weledeh Catholic school students in Trent Hamm's science class who tuned in for a live videoconference last week with Berinstain and Dr. Michael Dixon, who are helping to plan Canada's exploration of the red planet.

The Grade 8 students joined classes from Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario for the hour-long space talk. They discussed how to grow plants in the Mars atmosphere and climate, what the soil is like and what challenges humans face in its exploration.

"It's really deserty. I don't know if I'd actually like to be there. It sounds really dangerous getting there," Mitchell said.

"It's interesting to know about something a lot of people don't know," said Weledeh student Patrick Osmond.

Students were in awe by the six to seven month space trip just to land on Mars, and then the more than two years it takes to return to Earth.

Despite the long three-year trip, both Osmond and Mitchell said they'd sign on for the space expedition.

They'll get some more practice next week. The Jan. 21 videoconference was just the beginning of space interaction with the Canadian Space Agency for Weledeh.

Grade 5-8 students get to simulate a Mars Rover expedition on Feb. 2 and 3 in their gym, with the CSA's manager of space operations Marc Fricker leading them through a series of exercises.

Hamm expects some of the students could even grow up to be astronauts, judging from their excitement about the activities and their interest in the possibility of life on Mars.