Space centre goes interactive for Mars landing

A Nasa illustration of how Perseverance looks as it works on Mars

Hot on the heels of the February 18 Mars landing of NASA’s science rover Perseverance, Te Awamutu Space Centre’s Dave Owen is planning to expand his activities.

He is about to launch an interactive online chat series on the centre’s YouTube channel, one that will expand on what he does online and will cover both New Zealand and international audiences.

“I want to do different sessions targeting different time zones.  New Zealand time doesn’t work for many international audiences – people are either asleep or it’s too early for them,” he said.

The YouTube series will cover a wide range of topics for differing ages and levels of interest, and Dave intends covering newsworthy events as they occur as well as more generic space-related topics. He plans to keep the content and the timetable flexible to better accommodate those requirements.

The success of Rocket Lab in New Zealand, which he said has made Kiwis feel more connected to international space development, and public interest in events such as last week’s landing on Mars, keeps space in the news and has generated increased activity at the Kihikihi-based centre he has run for the past six years.

Another change has come through Covid-19, which he said has changed the way  information is shared and created more opportunities to expand online activities to a wider audience.

Dave keeps his fans alerted to events such as the Mars landing with regular updates via social media. He said the successful landing of the NASA rover Perseverance on a Martian crater floor only added to the romance and intrigue humans attach to space travel.

“Mars has always had a special fascination for us.  We can see it, we can see it is red when we look at it. There is the possibility that life could have existed there in the past, and that people could live there in the future.”

His online ‘live’ coverage of the event was streamed to a huge audience of young and old – schools, scout groups and others both here and abroad.

“Because of the distance between Mars and the Earth, there was an 11-minute delay in us receiving the signal. It meant that by the time we saw that crucial seven minutes it took the rover to land, it was already on the ground. People were asking questions all the time … it was really interesting.”

He said he had to adjust his online coverage for the landing so as to straddle those with just a passing interest in the event, and those with more technical knowledge.

The safe landing of Perseverance, which has been described as the most advance astrobiology laboratory ever sent to another world, saw mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause.

Those keen to know more about Dave’s planned YouTube sessions should visit the Space Centre’s website (www.spacecentre.nz)

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