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Universal exploration
Jody Bramel, Jeff Crews, Doug Beed and Niels Maumenee, clockwise from left, and the entire staff at the University of Montana's Earth Observing System education project, have made it possible for anyone with Internet access to take a 3-D tour of Mars.
Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

UM program gives 3-D tour of Red Planet via Internet

Montana students and inquisitive stargazers can now take a flyby trip around Mars and the Spirit landing site without leaving home.

Anyone with access to the Internet can log on to and take the journey, compliments of the University of Montana's Earth Observing System education project.

A combination of NASA-collected images, new technologies from Skyline Software Systems and the mapping imaginations of the EOS staff has made the 3-D adventure possible - and available - this week.

The Mars trip and a fly-through of UM's campus are just two of the travel and learning options offered through EOS. Since fall, the UM-based project has been showing off its ability to fly people over places like the Berkeley Pit in Butte and Glacier National Park, all with just a few clicks of a computer or laptop.

Although adults will find the new images of Mars interesting, the hope is that Montana schoolchildren will be the audience most wowed and inspired by the experience.

"With these new technologies, teachers and students have a way to visualize data in a way like never before," said Jeff Crews, assistant director of EOS, a NASA-funded program in UM's School of Education.

Through EOS, Montana's public schools have free access to more involved interactive software, which allows students to tailor their studies around a specific site or issue and gather data related to their investigation. Schools that are interested in the techno-tool also receive free training on how to use it.

"Anytime we can take information we gather from NASA and put it into a container for students to get excited about and teachers can use to build meaningful curriculums, that's exciting," said Kaye Ebelt, a Target Range teacher who uses EOS software in her social studies classes.

The software, she said, provides Montana students with an invaluable opportunity to learn about their state's geography and history - and beyond.

"A lot of our students haven't been out of Missoula County," she said. "Places like Jordan and Wolf Point are exotic, not to mention, Mars."

There's no question that programs that allow students to control their flight or to view something they are studying is fabulous, Ebelt said. What is even more wonderful is watching the students become savvy with the technology.

"Years ago, when students got up and gave reports in class, they were usually handwritten," she said. "Today's presentations, they are using PowerPoint, GIS maps and video clips.

"The technology makes the presentations more exciting to watch, and because of that students are really learning from the work of other students. And making learning more exciting is good for all of us."

With No Child Left Behind legislation breathing down the backs of public education, schools are going to be held accountable for science achievement scores, said Matt Taylor, an outreach coordinator for the School of Education.

"It is critical that we make science education come alive for students," he said. "And projects like this help engage students in science education."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at

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