Virtual Reality

Mars Bus Rolls Into Bay Area

San Francisco Bay area students and their parents will have the opportunity this month to take a ride on the Mars Bus.

Lockheed Martin's Generation Beyond initiative to inspire future engineers and scientists has created the Mars Bus to allow students to take a virtual reality tour of the planet.

A retrofitted school bus allows children to load in and, when the bus pulls away from the curb, they can stare out the bus windows that have been converted to virtual reality screens as the bus seems to drive through Mars, passing a storm that envelopes the bus in a yellow-orange cloud as a computer alerts them to the danger of flying debris. At another point, the computer warns the temperature is dropping to -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The bus will be at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland Sept. 9-11. Rides will be available during regular museum hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The bus will be at other locations in the Bay Area during the month to be announced later in the local media.

"Imagine witnessing the moment when that first explorer leaves footprints in the red dust of the Martian surface," said Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center Director Stephen Frick, a former NASA astronaut. "This is more than a dream. We are already planning to send humans to Mars in our lifetime and we need the talents and enthusiasm of a new generation of explorers."

Besides the Mars Bus, Generation Beyond has a number of learning resources including lesson plans with educator guides, family activities and material about space missions. There is also a Mars video challenge and a "Hello Mars" app that can be downloaded to check weather reports from the planet.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.