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Space Science & Mars STEM Lessons and Activities

Use these free STEM lesson plans, projects, and hands-on STEM activities to explore space science and the solar system with students.

Paper helicopter, models of planets, and candy core samples to represent collection of space science and Mars-focused STEM lessons and activities

These science projects, STEM activities and NGSS-aligned lesson plans help educators create hands-on learning opportunities to teach about space science, the solar system, and Mars, in the context of the Perseverance rover.

At the bottom of this resource, you will find a list of independent space science projects and related STEM careers.

Note: for more information about the various "types" of resources available, see Understanding Science Buddies' Resources.

Lesson Plans and Activities to Teach About the Solar System, Mars, and Space Science

  1. 1. Build a Landing Device

    Landing a spacecraft on Mars isn't easy, especially when the landing is being controlled remotely, but for Perseverance to succeed, it first has to land safely. With the Teaching Engineering Design with an Egg Drop lesson, students build their own reusable egg-drop lander to see if they can protect an egg being dropped from a high location. There is also an activity version available for informal use. For added fun and coverage of the steps of the Engineering Design Process, pair this lesson with the The Engineering Design Process: An Eggstronaut Mission video.

    Egg lander made from straws and craft materials shown with cracked egg

  2. 2. Candy Core Samples

    According to NASA, the Perseverance rover will be collecting rock core samples that are "about the size of a piece of chalk" to be returned to Earth for further analysis. With the Candy Core Samples activity, students act like geologists and drill their own core samples from candy bars for a hands-on simulation of how core samples can contain important layers of information.

  3. 3. Creating Craters

    The Perseverance rover is scheduled to land in the Jezero Crater on Mars, one of thousands of impact craters on the planet's surface. What causes an impact crater and what can we learn by analyzing the size of craters? With the Candy Core Samples activity, students use trays of flour and bouncy balls in varying sizes to make their own craters! (Tip! This activity can be messy. You might want to move your exploration outdoors. If a cell phone is available, try making slow-motion videos of the activity!)


  4. 4. Mars Helicopter

    Testing helicopter flight on Mars with the Ingenuity will be an exciting part of the mission. With the Engineer Helicopters for Mars lesson (or activity), students explore how the spinning of a helicopter's blades creates lift. What do lift and gravity have to do with how a helicopter flies? What difference will the atmosphere on Mars make for a helicopter? What design features might be especially important in thinking through helicopter flight on Mars? Students will explore these questions by designing their own paper helicopters that might fly on Mars.


  5. 5. Model the Solar System

    The Perseverance rover will have traveled more than six months to reach Mars. Why did it take so long? How far away is Mars? What about the other planets? The Mars rover landing is a good opportunity to work in lessons related to the Solar System. The Make a Model of the Solar System lesson guides students in building a scale model that represents the size of each planet as well as their distances from one another. (Separate activities are also available: Model the Distances between Planets in our Solar System) and How Big Are the Planets in Our Solar System?). The Worlds in Comparison lesson can also be used to model the Solar System.


  6. 6. A Fold-up Model Solar System

    With the Pocket Solar System lesson, students use a single strip of paper to make a simple model of the Solar System to visualize how much space exists between the planets. They'll be practicing fractions as they fold their model solar system, too!

    Sample strip of paper with solar system objects marked for pocket solar system

  7. 7. Building on Mars

    Thinking about colonization of a planet raises important questions about building materials and civil engineering. The How to Build on Mars! project guides students in making and testing bricks from materials that simulate Martian regolith, the loose rocky material that covers the surface of Mars. Students can continue their exploration of building materials on Mars with the Testing the Strength of Martian Bricks project.

    Two stacks of bricks simulating bricks from regolith on Mars

  8. 8. Growing Plants on Mars

    Finding a sustainable way to provide food is important when thinking about living on another planet. Mars doesn't have nutrient-rich soil like Earth does. Instead, Martian ground is covered in loose regolith. How will scientists find sustainable ways to grow plants? The Growing Plants on Mars project challenges students to investigate these questions. (Tip! This project is provided as a kernel of an idea around which students can build an independent science project, but thinking through the challenge and determining what experiments and tests might be important can work well for classroom instruction and groups.)

    Two plants in pots containing simulation of regolith Martian ground cover

  9. 9. An Elevator to Space?

    Getting to Mars or to some other space destination takes time, a reality that has engineers and mathematicians trying to find ways to make the journey faster. How would a space elevator work? Is such a device possible? The Space Elevator Problem Set math-based problem set guides students in working through the math involved. The activity requires understanding of Newton's laws of motion, Newton's law of universal gravitation, and algebra.

    Diagram of a space elevator between Earth and another object

  10. 10. Mars in Retrograde

    Students may have heard the phrase, "Mars in retrograde," but what does it mean? The Kinesthetic Astronomy: Mars Opposition Dance lesson helps students model the orbital speeds of Earth and Mars and learn what opposition, conjunction, and retrograde mean in astronomy.

    Eclipse

    "The Plane of the Ecliptic" © 2017 NASA


  11. 11. The Best Path to Mars

    With the A Roundabout Way to Mars lesson, students investigate what goes into determining the most effective interplanetary flight plan. Modeling the orbits of Earth and Mars with cardboard and string, students explore orbit transfers and learn about Hohmann transfers and delta-v maneuvers.

  12. 12. Growing Plants in Space

    Being able to grow food is a critical consideration for space colonization. In the Grow Plants in Microgravity with an Arduino Clinostat project, explore gravitropism and the challenge of growing plants in different gravity conditions by building a clinostat to simulate plant growth in microgravity.

  13. 13. Solar Sails

    Alternatives to rockets are needed to for deep space exploration. In the Solar Sails: The Future of Space Travel lesson, students explore the possibility of solar sails, which transfer wave energy from light into mechanical energy. In the activity, students explore by using solar sails made from aluminum foil to move cardboard tube satellites through "space" on a string.

    A photograph shows a flat square of aluminum foil with its edges wrapped around a square frame made from four plastic drinking draws and cross-bracing through the middle and into the four corners from taped-together wooden Popsicle sticks. A cardboard tube is secured vertically with rubber bands and tape where the sticks cross in the center.
  14. 14. Remote Control Rover

    Once on Mars, the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter will be remotely controlled by scientists and engineers on Earth. In the Mars Rover Obstacle Course activity, students think through some of the challenges involved in remotely controlling robotic systems. This activity involves guiding humans through an obstacle course. Students interested in robotics and the programming of robotic vehicles can learn more by building and exploring different sensor-based BlueBot robots and RC robots. For additional advanced robotics projects, students can explore building robots that integrate programmable microcontrollers like Arduino.

The Perseverance Rover Landing

As part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, the Perseverance rover launched in July 2020 and landed on Mars in February 2021. The rover will collect rock and soil samples on the Red Planet. The first samples are projected to reach Earth in 2033. The rover is about the size of a car. It weighs more than 2,000 pounds, has 19 camera systems, and was outfitted with many instruments that will be used and tested on the mission, including:

  • A SuperCam that can analyze the composition of rocks and regolith from a distance
  • Mastcam-Z, a camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging features
  • Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), an experiment designed to demonstrate the production of oxygen from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Mars
  • The Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) to monitor weather, climate, and dust on Mars

The rover also carried the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, a 4-pound robotic helicopter that will be used to test the possibility of flight on Mars.

The Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on Mars on February 18 (2021). This 28-mile-wide (45 km) crater was once the site of a lake, and scientists believe it may be the most likely spot to detect signs of microbial life. According to NASA, Perseverance's mission is to collect samples that will help answer this question: Was there ever ancient life on Mars?

Space Science Projects for Students Doing Independent Science Projects or Science Fair

Students interested in projects involving simple machines may enjoy independent physics and engineering projects like these:

Browse projects:

Related STEM Careers

Learn more about STEM career paths for students interested in space science:

Additional Resources

For related educator resources, see:

Thematic Collections

Collections like this help educators find themed activities in a specific subject area or discover activities and lessons that meet a curriculum need. We hope these collections make it convenient for teachers to browse related lessons and activities. For other collections, see the Teaching Science Units and Thematic Collections lists. We encourage you to browse the complete STEM Activities for Kids and Lesson Plans areas, too. Filters are available to help you narrow your search.

Understanding Science Buddies' STEM Resources

Lesson Plans contain materials to support educators leading hands-on STEM learning with students. Lesson Plans offer NGSS alignment, contain background materials to boost teacher confidence, even in areas that may be new to them, and include supplemental resources like worksheets, videos, discussion questions, and assessment materials.

Video Lessons include NGSS alignment and offer a plug-and-play option for teaching a STEM lesson. Each Video Lesson asks a science question, teaches students about the relevant science, and guides students in a hands-on experiment that will help them answer the question. Video Lessons are NGSS-aligned and bring core science concepts to life with storytelling, animation, and photos using a self-paced engage, explore, and reflect format.

Activities are simplified explorations that can be used in the classroom or in informal learning environments.

Projects are written to support students doing independent science projects or science fair projects. Projects can be adapted for classroom use.



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