Yabby and Space Place

This is Steve Ember. And this is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about a special place on the Internet communications system that helps young children learn about the exploration of space.

And we tell about copying nature to help design devices that may help explore the planet Mars.

Researchers are studying a small Australian shellfish to help them build devices that could explore the surface of the planet Mars. Australian scientists at the University of Melbourne are studying a small shellfish called a yabby. The yabby is a small salt-water creature that looks like a crab.

David Macmillan is a professor of zoology at the University of Melbourne. He says the yabby can do many different tasks although it has a very limited amount of intelligence. Researchers are studying the Yabby to see if they can make a device similar to it that can also perform difficult tasks.

Mr. Macmillan says this kind of research is called biomimetics. Biomimetics is the science of using successful designs found in nature and reproducing them as machines.

Mr. Macmillan says biomimetics is a quickly expanding part of scientific research. The kind of machines he is planning to build are called robots.

Mr. Macmillan says many small creatures like the yabby are able to make many of the same decisions that humans make. Yet they are not as intelligent as humans. For example, they search for and find food. They can choose a mate so they can produce young. They can also look for and find an area to make a home or nest.

Mr. Macmillan says humans make these same decisions using millions and millions of brain cells. Yet extremely small creatures like the Australian yabby shellfish make the same decisions using just thousands of brain cells.

Mr. Macmillan says the computer industry is now able to make powerful computers that are very small. These small computers can be placed in small machines that could do useful work. A powerful computer can act like a brain. So robots can be created to make decisions, similar to the simple decisions made by a yabby.

Mr. Macmillan says a good example would be a robot that could be designed to look for water. Another could be designed to search for minerals or chemicals. These robots could also be designed so they could move across difficult areas of land and climb small hills. Their small computers could also be able to link together to perform work or to help each other complete a task. The little robots would be able to perform tasks that would be too dangerous for people.

Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration say they want to expand their use of this kind of small robot. The NASA researchers say some robots can already do this kind of work. But these robots are much too large and weigh too much to be taken into space.

Researchers say they hope to see many of the small robots that have the intelligence that Yabbies have exploring Mars in the near future. They could provide information that will increase the chances of human exploration of the Red-Planet.

In Nineteen Ninety-Eight, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched a very special and exciting space vehicle. Yet, it did not travel into space. This vehicle traveled in the computer Internet communications system. It is a Web site on the Internet called Space Place.

The Space Place Web site is a joint effort by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the California Institute of Technology and the International Technology Education Association. It was designed as a tool for teachers to help young children learn about space technology.

Space Place is meant for school children between the ages of eight and thirteen. However, it can really be enjoyed by anyone who wants to learn about many different space sciences. Among the subjects are space technology, Earth sciences and space sciences.

Space Place includes about forty activities that help children learn about these subjects. It includes games that help teach about space. Areas within the web site teach facts about the many different sciences used in space exploration. Other areas offer plans to help teachers present many of these subjects to their students.

Recently, the federal government counted the number of people living in the United States. This count takes place every ten years. It is called a census. Information collected in the latest census showed that Spanish is the first language for more than twenty-seven-million people in the United States. Almost thirteen-million speakers of Spanish do not speak English very well. This number includes many children.

NASA officials decided that these Americans could use a Spanish language version of Space Place. It was launched last month. It is almost an exact copy of the English language Space Place.

The information and activities at the Space Place web site are developed by workers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Much of their work has been published in past copies of "The Technology Teacher," the magazine of the International Technology Education Association.

Teachers say that most of the information on Space Place is for young children. Yet much of it can be useful to older children in high school.

When you open the Space Place Web site, you will see a large screen with several drawings. Each drawing opens a link to another part of Space Place. Doctor Marc's Amazing Facts is only one of the many areas in this web site that you can visit.

If you open Doctor Marc's Amazing Facts, you will find it links to twelve different questions. One of the links is called, "How Good is the Amazing Hubble Space Telescope?"

The answer is: "If you could see as well as the camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, you would be able to read the small print on a newspaper from one and a half kilometers away." The answer may be simple, but it clearly describes how powerful the Hubble Space Telescope really is. This area of Space Place also has a computer link to some of the beautiful color pictures produced by the space telescope.

Doctor Marc's Amazing Facts also answers the question about how satellites remain in the same position in the sky. The answer used the example of the GOES weather satellites. The job of a GOES is to study the weather over North America. The satellite orbits over the center of Earth at the equator and make one orbit a day. Since the Earth turns once a day, the weather satellite is moving at the same rate as the Earth and appears to stay in the same place in the sky all the time.

Another area in Space Place is called Space Science In Action. There, you can learn about many different sciences. One is called, "The Infrared Photo Album." This area shows many photographs including those of birds, a young boy, an alligator and a camel. You can look at these photographs as you normally would. You can also change the image to an infrared photograph.

Light is a form of energy. The human eye can see only some of this energy. Infrared photography permits us to see light energy the human eye can not see. Infrared photography is extremely valuable in space because it permits researchers to see space objects the human eye can not see.

You can visit NASA's Space Place if you have a computer and are able to link with the World Wide Web. Space Place provides valuable information in simple English that is easy to understand. And it provides the same information in Spanish.

You can find Space Place by having your computer look for the words "Space Place." Enter it as one word: s-p-a-c-e-p-l-a-c-e.

Or you can enter the address. It is: w-w-w dot s-p-a-c-e-p-l-a-c-e dot n—a-s-a dot g-o-v.

You can find the link to the Spanish language version of Space Place near the top of the opening page. Have Fun!

This program was written by Paul Thompson. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - February 13, 2002: Yabby and Space Place
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