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The scientific payload on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter is taking a few days off in May — and during that time, ESA is going to let kids have their say over how one of the cameras on the spacecraft should be used. Schools, clubs and other youth groups have until March 27 to put in their requests.
The coordinates for the selected imaging targets will be beamed up for picture-taking sessions that Mars Express' Visual Monitoring Camera, or VMC, will execute between May 25 to 27. The low-resolution VMC, also known as the Mars Webcam, is not a scientific instrument as such. Its primary purpose was to provide visual confirmation of the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander's separation from the main spacecraft in 2003. But since then, VMC has sent back loads of wonderful pictures that end up on the camera team's blog and Flickr gallery.
Science operations will be suspended during those three days in May, due to a solar conjunction that interferes with orbiter-to-Earth radio communication. That means the VMC is free to be pointed at almost any Martian target. There'll be eight or so observation slots available, ESA says.
The resulting pictures will be downloaded to Earth on May 28 and delivered to the winning teams electronically. It's up to those teams to create a scientific or artistic project that makes creative use of the imagery. ESA plans to share the projects with the world via the VMC blog. For more information about the campaign, check out ESA's news release and the eligibility details.
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— Alan Boyle
ESA licenses VMC imagery under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO) license.