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Mars Attacks Downtown

Unless you've been living under a proverbial rock lately, you know that we've landed on Mars. Well, not "we," exactly, but a machine: The Phoenix, sent by the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab and NASA, launched in August 2007 and landed in late May 2008.

Since its legendary landing, the Phoenix has performed such exciting feats as digging a ditch, collecting soil samples and uncovering what we now know is ice, all the while sending images of the Red Planet back home for Tucsonans and science-geeks alike to salivate over.

To commemorate this internationally noteworthy event, the Fox Tucson Theatre is teaming up with the Lunar and Planetary Lab for Mars Day at the Fox, to educate and entertain Tucson families.

During the all-day event, Fox will be showing the Mars-themed films Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and The Angry Red Planet (1960), deemed "classic science-fiction films that are quintessential examples of 1950s sci-fi cinema" by the Fox.

"So many people have been inspired by these movies, it was just a fun and logical choice to show them on a hot summer day," said Carla Bitter, the education and public outreach manger for the Phoenix Mars Mission.

In addition to the movies, volunteers from the lab and the mission will be on hand to facilitate a variety of activities--mainly aimed at children, but appropriate for all ages, said Chelsea Hodson, a public-affairs assistant for the mission.

The activities will include a robotic-arm simulation, a Mars match card game, and dirty-ice snow cones. During the robotic-arm stimulation, kids will be able to paint using the arms "similar to the one on the lander," and "see how difficult it is to use it," Hodson said. The Mars match card game will be similar to "memory," and will help participants distinguish differences and similarities between Earth and Mars. The dirty-ice snow cones--the only activity to feature an eating component--will use ingredients like syrup and chocolate to teach about soil and ice, a hot topic with mission scientists.

There will be a live feed from the red planet, thanks to the NASA Web site, shown throughout the day.

"It will all be very hands-on for the kids," Hodson said. "We want to get them excited about (the mission)."

Other activities are "tentative," Hodson said, but the lab is hoping to have a segment of "special presentations" by the lab's public-outreach team and other mission staff members. Using PowerPoint presentations and animation, staff members will talk about the "entry, descent and landing of the Phoenix," basic elements of the mission and their personal involvement. They'll also hold a question-and-answer session with the audience, Hodson said.

"(Educating the public) helps us achieve our goals for NASA and for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission," Bitter said.

While the Phoenix launched in 2007, Mars Day at the Fox has only been in the works for about three months, Hodson said. Amidst the excitement of the actual landing and the flurry of daily information available to the public, Mars Day at the Fox is a way to bring the basic information to the public--and specifically to children--while allowing everyone to have fun, Hodson said.

"We just really wanted to engage the public," Bitter said. "This will definitely meet our informal educational goals, but with a different audience other than schools and summer camps."

Mars Day begins at 11 a.m., Saturday, June 28, with the screening of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and ends after The Angry Red Planet, set to start at 7:30 p.m. The activities are free and open to the public and will be set up in the main lobby of the Fox, 17 W. Congress St. Regular concessions will be available at regular prices. Movie tickets are $8 for regular admission, and $6 for students, seniors and those in the military. For more information about Mars Day at the Fox, call the theater at 547-3040 or visit the Fox Web site. More information about the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab and the Phoenix Mars Mission can be found at the Mission Web site.

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