Mars Rover Landing: Space Science & Mars STEM Lessons and Activities
The Perseverance rover will be landing on Mars in February! Use these free STEM lesson plans and hands-on activities to explore space science and the Solar System with students.
As part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, the Perseverance rover launched in July 2020. The rover is headed to Mars, where it will spend close to two Earth years collecting rock and soil samples on the Red Planet. The rover is about the size of a car. It weighs more than 2,000 pounds, has 19 camera systems, and is 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
NASA hopes that Perseverance's tools will help pave the way for future human missions.
The rover also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, a 4-pound robotic helicopter that will be used to test the possibility of flight on Mars.
Perseverance has been in transit since its summer launch and is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. Perseverance will land in the Jezero crater. 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?
With the Perseverance landing date approaching, these activities and NGSS-aligned lesson plans can help educators create hands-on learning opportunities to teach about the solar system and space science related to Mars in the classroom, as part of remote learning, or for independent or family exploration at home.
Note: Science Buddies Lesson Plans contain materials to support educators leading hands-on STEM learning with students. Lesson Plans offer NGSS alignment, contain background materials to inspire teacher confidence, even in areas that may be new to them, and include supplemental resources like worksheets, videos, discussion questions, and assessment materials. Check these resources for additional content for families at home and independent student projects.
Lesson Plans and Activities to Teach About the Solar System, Mars, and Space Science
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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 Model the Planets in the Solar System). The Worlds in Comparison lesson can also be used to model the 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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
"The Plane of the Ecliptic" © 2017 NASA
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.
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. For more advanced robotics, students can explore the role of programmable microcontrollers like Arduino.
The Rover Landing
The Perseverance landing will be the 5th attempted rover landing on Mars. According to NASA, landing on Mars is difficult. The video below shows a simulation of the landing. You and your students can tune in for the landing and take part in educational programming related to Perseverance on the NASA website.
More Space and Rocket Science for Families and K-12 Classrooms
Families interested in space science, the Mars rover landing, or rockets can find additional activities, reading suggestions, and guidance for exploration in the Mission to Mars: Summer of STEM (Week 9) post. This post was part of our 2020 Summer of STEM and offers an accessible collection for Mars-themed STEM.
Students interested in space science and Mars and looking for independent science projects can find projects in our Space Exploration cutting edge area.
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.
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