NASA test their latest kit in this harsh desert terrain, so it is the perfect place to see if our scientists could take on the might of NASA in their own backyard. The results can be seen when the popular Open University/BBC Two series Rough Science – presented by the dynamic Kate Humble – returns for a fourth series.
Space exploration holds an almost universal fascination, and, as the new series begins in January 2004, no fewer than three space landers will have arrived on Mars to search for signs of life – including the Open University's own Beagle 2 project. Taking inspiration from these and other aspects of space exploration, each week Kate Humble sets the team of hardy and adventurous scientists a set of different, space-related challenges. Each challenge is rooted in a real-life problem that space scientists have faced at some time – from making a Mars rover, designing a communication system that would work in space and even making a spacesuit. Based in an abandoned silver mine, the scientists have just basic tools and electricity at their disposal, so to meet the challenges will stretch their ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness to the limits. As they grapple with the extreme climate, the scientists also have to find whatever resources the desert can provide.
For each challenge the team come up with ideas based on their scientific knowledge, commonsense – and sometimes – guesswork. The results are usually successful, occasionally disappointing but always entertaining.
Jonathan Hare will be joined by Scotland's first Rough Scientist Iain Stewart and chemist Mike Bullivant from the Open University in Milton Keynes; physicist Kathy Sykes from Bristol and botanist Ellen McCallie from the USA. Through the challenges, the series aims to inspire adults and young people into learning more about science.
Jonathan Renouf, series producer said:
"People often think of science as something difficult, something that they don't understand. But I think this series shows that a lot of science is actually surprisingly simple – and fun! I defy anyone to watch the show and not come away with a sense of exhilaration and surprise at what the rough scientists are able to achieve, using nothing more than simple tools, ingenuity and the resources they can find in the desert. And for those who think science is a bit of a boy thing, it's particularly rewarding that in Ellen and Kathy we have two inspirational women scientists who convey the excitement of what they're doing with such passion and humour."
The series is scheduled for broadcast on 6 January 2004 on BBC Two.
The challenges are:
Programme 1 Exploration
Jonathan's challenge is to make a rover; a remote-controlled vehicle that could explore strange new worlds. Iain and Ellen have to use their geological and botanical skills to search for water in the desert – Death Valley and the deserts around it are some of the driest places on the planet. Assuming they find some water, Kathy and Mike are going to have to find a way of purifying it to make it safe for drinking.
Programme 2 Communication
The second set of Rough Science space challenges are all based around communication. Sound waves don't travel in space, so Jonathan and Kathy come up with an extraordinary solution – they carry a voice on a sunbeam! Iain has to make a plaque that could be sent out into deep space – like NASA's Pioneer probe. And, like NASA's plaque, it has to have a message on it for any aliens that may find it. It took a million pounds and two years to develop a space pen – a pen that works in zero gravity. Ellen and Mike get no money and just three days to come up with their own zero gravity pen.
Programme 3: Spacesuit
Spacesuits are designed to protect astronauts from extreme temperatures. So for this week's challenge the Rough Scientists have to collectively design a cooling system for their very own spacesuit. It had better work, because on Day three they have to take it to one of the hottest places on earth – in Death Valley – where one of them will have to test it out by going on a simulated "moon walk".
Programme 4: Impact
Not too far from the Rough Science base is Arizona's famous Meteor crater. This week Iain, Kathy and Mike have to work out how big the meteor was that made this huge crater. It's not just the Earth that gets hit by objects from outer space – the moon is also a target, as evidenced by its heavily cratered surface. So Jonathan and Ellen have to pick a crater on the moon and measure how big it is. And because they'll be doing their measurements at night, Ellen has to come up with a subtle lighting scheme.
Programme 5: Aerial Survey
Kathy and Jonathan have to design an aerial surveyor that can explore much greater areas than the Mars rover by floating above land. Iain and Ellen have to get airborne for their challenge too. In 1872 California experienced one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded in the United States – they have to find where the epicentre was, and work out how big its magnitude was. Mike has a very different challenge. Back in 1970 the crew of Apollo 13 faced certain death when an accident damaged their oxygen tanks. To survive they had to build a carbon dioxide filter – and so Mike has to do the same.
Programme 6: Rocket
The final Rough Science challenges are all about rockets. Mike, Jonathan and Kathy have to make three different rockets. But there's a catch; they're only allowed to use one thing as a fuel and that's water! They've also got to design their rockets to carry a "passenger" – a (raw) egg which Ellen and Iain have to find a way of returning the egg safely to earth.
Gabi Nobis OU Media Relations 01908 655026 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Renouf Rough Science Series Producer 0208 752 5695 e-mail: Jonathan.Renouf@bbc.co.uk
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