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Students land Martian honors

Four homeschool fifth-graders in Federal Way didn’t discover life on Mars, but they did find regional recognition for their effort in a NASA-sponsored contest.

The students won third place in the western region of the space agency’s Student Involvement Program competition in the Design a Mission to Mars category.

Over a four-month period, the students –– Kieran Bronson-Doherty, Lorenza Bronkhorst, Kenneth Kurtz and Keith Peterson –– researched and wrote a plan for exploring Mars for geothermal energy. They described how robotic probes could be sent to the planet to drill for signs of geothermal heat beneath the surface.

Their entry was judged at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. They’ll receive medals from NASA, and they and other top finishers in the Student Involvement Program competitions for 2001-02 will be officially announced in mid-April on the program’s official Web site (http://education.nasa.gov/nsip).

More than 3,400 students submitted 1,300 entries in six categories. The competition is intended to stimulate interest in math, science, technology and geography. Scientists, engineers and educators were among the judges.

Susan Bronkhorst, one of the parents who worked with the Federal Way students on their project, called it a “very intensive experience.” She said the students chose geothermal energy as their topic because “they wanted to do something different than the hot topic of whether there’s life on Mars.”

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