the role of satellites in oceanography.
Participants are given an empty
plastic shell from which they have to
construct a functional buoy fitted with
sensors capable of withstanding harsh
ocean conditions, plus an anchor to
keep the buoy in position as it drifts
with the currents.
The first challenge, says seventh
grader Turner Edwards, "was figuring
out what we wanted to measure. Some
wanted to measure the salt in the
water, some temperature, and some
currents. It was hard to decide."
They had expert help. Abid is the
author of a new book titled Spacecraft
Sensors. "We had a number of
options," he says, "so we made lists of
the pros and cons of our different
choices. We finally chose the temperature sensor." The next steps were to
understand how the sensors work, test
them, and make sure they will survive
in salt water.
For Nance, the hardest part of the
project was all the calculations that
needed to be done. "We had to figure
out where we were going to put the
sensors, how much weight needed to
be in the anchor, how many volts we
needed for the Argos card — the satellite transmitter."
Last December after more than a
year of work, the Argonautica team
completed their buoy with seven temperature sensors and an anchor, which
they constructed from plastic pipe and
cement. The final step was the red
paint. "It looked really good," says
Nance, "but there's not much you can
do with a buoy."
Isabelle Autissier, a well-known
French sailor, is launching the buoy
from her ship Ada2. She is on an expedition to retrace the routes of some
early Antarctic explorers, including
Jean-Baptiste Charcot and Ernest
Shackleton. Students will be able
to track their buoy and other
Argonautica-built buoys from the
French space agency's education website and correlate the data they collect
with measurements of sea surface
height made by the Jason satellite, a
joint US/French mission.
"This was so much fun to build and
put together," says Nance. "We were so
proud of ourselves. The best part was
working as a team." Edwards agrees, "It
was really fun to collaborate. It was nice
to come from nothing and do a project
from start to finish."
"It's great to see what they can
accomplish," says Abid. "Now that
they can see what they can do, their
expectations get higher. They believe
that next time they can build something even more complex."
In France, about 60 school groups
participate in Argonautica each year,
and the program is expanding in
Europe. "We think it is a great program
and wanted to bring it to the States,"
says Annie Richardson, who coordinated the effort in Los Angeles.
Richardson is an outreach coordinator at JPL for the Jason mission and
the upcoming Ocean Surface Topography Mission. "Many of the
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