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Mars Mission 5 | Part 1

Part 1A: Via video conference, the Mars Lab team in Sydney will introduce your class to Mars exploration and the Mars Mission 5 activity.
Part 1B: teacher facilitated rover driving practise and mission preparation.

You will need:

  • A 45 minute period, then additional class time
  • Standards based (H.323) video conferencing unit
  • Class set of computers or tablets with internet access and Unity Web Player installed (at least 1 laptop between 2)
  • One computer with internet access connected to a projector
  • Mars surface images projected on whiteboard
  • 5 printed or PDF copies of using Mars Yard Maps handout
  • 5 printed or PDF copies of the virtual mars yard handout
  • A cut out of each of the of 5 landform clues
  • Class computers placed around the room with internet access and ready to run the Virtual Mars Yard and Mars Yard Maps applications.

1A: Introduction to Mars exploration

Approx. 45 minutes

Mars Lab team will do the following:

Discuss some reasons for exploring Mars:

  • address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system
  • expand technology, create new industries
  • Mars has characteristics and a history similar to Earth’s so we can look for signs of life and investigate Mars’ geological evolution
  • search for life beyond Earth
  • for potential human exploration, habitation, terraforming.

Present Mars surface images taken by Curiosity and encourage everyone to discuss what they can see and consider what that can tell us about Mars. [We will use a technique called, See-think-wonder.]

Look at the Mawson Rover, teleoperation control interface and the Mars Yard Maps application and explain:

  • the features of EMR-Mawson
  • the pan/tilt and driving controls and cameras
  • how to use the Mars Yard Maps application for planning and logging.

Present the class with their mission:

Scenario — NASA missions have shown that Mars has characteristics and a history similar to Earth’s.  Scientists have established that finding certain landforms on Mars could offer hints into Mars’ history, geological evolution and potential evidence of once habitable environments on Mars. Your mission is to explore the Martian surface with a robotic rover, look for these landforms of interest and capture high quality images of them for later analysis.
Here are descriptive ‘clues’ of the landforms of interest that you need to look for and take images of on your mission:

  • A rock that includes layers and striations
  • A substance that might be an evaporite
  • A rock that may be a meteorite
  • A rock that could be sedimentary
  • Spherical iron oxide stones that on Earth need water to form.

Each team will get one of these clues (note: clues may vary from the ones shown).


1B: Rover driving practise and mission preparation

2-3 hours carried out in class time prior to Part 2

The teacher should do the following:


  • Divide the class into 5 equal teams.
  • Ask each team to come up with a mission team name.

Give each team a Using Mars Yard Maps handout and ONE of the 5 described landform clues.  Instruct each team to use the Mars Yard Maps (MYM) application to examine the surface of the Mars Yard and look for their assigned landform (there may be more than one specimen of some of the landforms). 

Display Mars Yard Maps on the projector.  Ask each team to point out the site on the MYM that they think is their assigned landform of interest.  As a whole class, decide on the 5 sites that the class will explore with the rover and the order or path that you think is best to follow to get to all 5 sites. Then assign the teams a number from 1 to 5 corresponding to the sites 1 to 5 that the mission will visit (ie. Team 1 will drive the rover to site 1, team 2 to site 2 …)

Hand each team a copy of the virtual mars yard handout and instruct them to use their laptops to go to the Virtual Mars Yard.

Working in their groups, have teams use the Virtual Mars Yard and Mars Yard Maps to first learn how to drive the rover and then to practise their ‘leg’ of the mission (ie. how they intend to drive from the previous chosen site to their site).  Allow about 50-60 minutes for groups to plan and practise their leg of the mission.