High school students from around Australia will embark on a mission to Mars and learn what it is like to follow science and engineering careers.

The simulated mission exhibit, installed at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum as part of the University of New South Wales' Pathways to Space project, is a recipient of almost $1 million in funding under the Federal Government's Australian Space Research Program.

Launching the project at the museum, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said encouraging Australia's youth to take up studies in science and engineering was a key priority for the Government.

"Pathways to Space will inspire students by taking them into a 'living lab' where they will participate in a research project on a simulated Martian surface known as the 'Mars Yard'. Here they will learn about science and engineering," Senator Carr said.

"Thanks to TelePresence, Cisco's high-quality videoconferencing system, students from regional and remote areas of Australia will not be left behind - they too will be able to join the mission," Senator Carr said.

UNSW Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer said the project - part of a long-term study to help shape the delivery of science education - was made possible by two key factors: UNSW researchers winning two major space grants and the decision to build the University's capacity in astrobiology.

"But the real winning is the one that comes from seeing the project come to life and make a contribution, seeing it affect people's lives, seeing it build knowledge and understanding, seeing kids in classrooms around the country infected by the opportunities to learn and to get involved," Professor Hilmer said.

Project Director, Dr Carol Oliver, of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW, said: "For the first time in Australia, we have a chance to engage students and their teachers in real research as part of a major educational outreach project as well as the opportunity to measure the results of placing ongoing science and engineering research in a significant public space."

The project has been developed by a consortium of partners led by UNSW (Australian Centre for Astrobiology, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and School of Physics), in conjunction with the University of Sydney (Australian Centre for Field Robotics), Cisco and the Powerhouse Museum.

Read the full story at the Faculty of Science newsroom.

Media contacts: Dr Carol Oliver, 0417 477 612 | Bob Beale, UNSW Faculty of Science, 0411 705 435