December 27, 2006

"Voyageurs des sables" Six high-school pupils help to monitor desertification

Guided by explorer Stéphane Lévin, a unique and demanding adventure awaits the 6 high-school pupils selected for the “Sand Travellers” (Voyageurs des Sables) expedition. With just 20 days left before departure, the youngsters’ dreams are getting closer to reality as they come to grips with scientific and technical concepts and follow an intensive training regime to acclimatize themselves to remote and harsh desert conditions. The 6 sand travellers are confidently, and somewhat impatiently, looking forward to embarking on their 12-day extreme adventure.
15 March 2007

But it’s much more than just an adventure. “The reason this project has been so successful is that it addresses a topical need to verify the impacts of global warming in the field; in this sense, the project has a real social utility,” said Bernard Burel, chief executive of the Cité de l’Espace space theme park in Toulouse, at the last press briefing with the youngsters yesterday.

Bearing witness

The youngsters are ready to assume this role and will be covering a range of scientific and technological themes: Romain will concentrate on geolocation, while Elodie will work on telemedicine, Tiffany on broadband communication, Guilhem on soil and water analysis, Nathalie on measurements and Valentin on taking panoramic photos.
They are raring to go and keenly aware of the responsibilities they have been given: “Our partners have developed protocols for us that can help to spawn practical applications,” they say.
From a broader perspective, the team are eager to compare the data they collect with those acquired by what they see as legendary missions like Parasol and Calipso, to get a glimpse of what’s in store from the future GMES programme and to test telecoms, digital imaging and satellite navigation equipment in the field.

And they aren’t losing sight of their ultimate objective: to contribute to a better understanding of global warming. “If we can help to characterize the desert environment, we will be advancing research on desertification in a small way.”

Their “testing ground” is a village deep in the south of Morocco at risk from the encroaching desert sands.

1st live link-up on 6 April

Other youngsters will also be able to live the Sand Travellers dream, since Stéphane Lévin has added a “communications” module to report back in a more reactive, more vivid way to “those frustrated at not being able to make the trip.”

The Sand Travellers will be giving their 1st videoconference 6 April, at 4:00 p.m. CET. Until 12 April, daily updates from mission HQ at the Cité de l’Espace will be providing pictures and commentary on how the adventurers—and the desert—are faring.

Besides the protocol aspects, communications have been strengthened to cater for the fantastic response to this unique adventure. The heads and teachers at the 3 high schools involved all confirm the educational value of the Science Travellers expeditions. “The adventurers’ expedition is getting everybody enthusiastic,” says a head teacher. “It forges ties with the world of research, spurs interest in science and opens a window onto the amazing range of space technologies out there.”

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