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OREM, Utah (AP) -- High school students in computer graphics courses at Mountainland Applied Technology College are helping a NASA mission to Mars.
"I'm excited but a little nervous," said Shaun Watson, 17, a Provo High School senior. "It's going to be so big and everyone's going to be relying on us."
Students in two MATC multimedia courses will serve as one of 54 Mars Exploration Student Data Teams, assisting NASA as two rovers launched last summer land on the red planet in January and begin exploring.
The rovers will be searching for evidence of liquid water in Mars' history and conducting other geographical studies.
The teams of high school students will analyze data transmitted from two satellites now orbiting Mars to predict surface temperatures and atmospheric disturbances that may affect or damage the rovers.
"They need someone to analyze Martian weather patterns and tell if a dust storm is coming" so the rovers' solar panels can be closed, protecting them from the dust, said David V. Black, the MATC computer graphics instructor who is overseeing the student NASA team at the college.
Black said his student team will be involved developing three-dimensional models and animations, topographical maps of the planet and other charts and graphs.
The MATC group is the only team in Utah and the only student data team focusing primarily on computer graphics; the others are based in science, he said.
The work the high school students will do is normally done by graduate students or other scientists, Black said.
"The idea is to inspire this next generation of explorers to work for NASA," Black said.
Black said the students participating in the NASA project are mostly juniors and seniors and are from high schools throughout Utah Valley.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)