LAPIS: High School Students Testing Prototypes for NASA/JPL

A Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District
Division of Educational Services - Mathematics and Science

High School Science/Technology Project
Steven Dworetzky, Teacher


The LAPIS project was an educational outreach partnership with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that was designed to get students interested and involved in the planning of missions to Mars.

LAPIS took place in the spring of 1999, when high school students from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Ithaca and St. Louis were invited to test a prototype of a rover, named FIDO, that will head to Mars in 2003 to look for evidence of past life.

During the LAPIS project, students were invited to work alongside the JPL scientists and engineers to experience the many facets of developing, preparing and planning a space mission. It was not a small task.

Six students per city met for months to prepare for the project. Each team had assignment. Ithaca was to plan the mission, St. Louis to archive the data, Los Angeles to collect the data, and Phoenix was to turn everything into a CD-rom for NASA to distribute around the world. In addition to their specific assignments, each city would be given the opportunity to field test FIDO.

The students got to meet each other during an introduction and mission briefing which took place at JPL. There they were given hands-on experience in testing the instruments, software, and design of the rover and advice in planning their mission.

In April, 1999, they were ready to go. Dr. Raymond Arvidson, from JPL, explained the field test. "What we are doing is putting FIDO down in various places in the field, in desert environments that are analogous to Mars, and we are trying to do tests of mission operations, including collecting samples."

Although the prototype would be tested with an array of scientists, engineers, and students around it to document and study FIDO's progress and problems first hand, the mission commands would come from a remote site, via telecommunications and satellite, just as they would in a real mission to Mars.

On the day of the test, one-half of the L.A. team was stationed in their mission control - Mr. Dworetzky's classroom - to observe and direct the mission through an internet connected plasma screen, which was donated by MCSI. The other half of the team was stationed in the desert to implement the commands and take documentation.

A multitude of press huddled in the room as the students explained the mission. "Today the Los Angeles team actually gets to drive the rover. We're moving the rover to a point, and taking a hazard avoidance cam, a camera shot to see where we are. Then we'll take up the mast, turn it to a point on the rock, take a color picture of that rock and then after that we'll take an infrared shot of the rock. We do that by using a system called WITS (Web Interface for Tele-Science). It's an internet based program and we've been practicing on this for a few months."

The100+ hours of preparation paid off. The mission test experienced a few glitches, but the students were ready for it. Bad weather and communications problems contributed to the challenge, but when it was all over, the students, and teacher, involved in LAPIS accomplished everything they wanted to. All were grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As the students said:

"When I finish high school, I plan on going into computer engineering, so this project has opened my view into the world and what I am going to do."

"What I learned from this project is not only the information from the rover, but that we can get together and learn from each other."

"I would definitely do this again. Again, and again, and again."

For more information, contact Steven Dworetzky, Robotics Coordinator (323) 665-8242 sdworetz@lausd.k12.ca.us Los Angeles Unified School District, Division of Educational Services - Mathematics and Science

333 S. Beaudry, 25th Floor, 151-9 Los Angeles, CA 90017 Phone (213) 241-6420 Fax (213) 241-8469 www.lausd.k12.ca.us/lausd/offices/lasi