60mom-logo-150px L1

What will we do with our 60 minutes of Mars rover time?

An activity to guide your class to develop a scientific goal for their 60 minute exploration of the Martian surface with the Mars Lab Continuum rover.

You will need:

  • 40-60 minutes
  • Computer and web access
  • Mars surface images
  • Brainstorming materials
  • Continuum Rover fact sheet handout
  • Curiosity has landed video cued and ready for play on a big screen.


1. Set the scene – inspire the team

Show your class Curiosity has landed, NASA’s (2.5 mins) video that shows the complexity of landing a rover on Mars and the joy when it successfully landed in August 2012.  You may also like to show Seven minutes of terror, another excellent NASA video about the Curiosity landing.

2. Reveal the special opportunity

Reveal to everyone that they have been given the special opportunity of 60 minutes of Mars rover time. The chance to remotely explore the surface of Mars and take photographs using a robot rover!

3. Look at the surface of Mars

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA17081.jpgMars surface http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpeg/PIA17083.jpg

Display Mars surface images. Zoom in, pan around and encourage observation of features.

What features can you see?

Rocks, sand, dust, mountains, sharp rocks, craters, depressions, layering in rocks, river bed, canyon, no water, no clouds, no life, no plants, no aliens.

4. Present the driving question

Present the following driving question:

What are we going to do with our 60 minutes of rover time?

5. Brainstorm and research the possibilities

Guide a brainstorm and research session with the class to explore all possible things that could be done with the valuable rover time and all kinds of questions and issues that may need to be answered.
Just drive around, test stuff, look at rocks, take samples, test soil, look for life, look for water, how far can we go? how fast? can we photograph, drill, cut, test? who drives, how do we drive, how do we get information back?

6. Handle questions about the Continuum Rover

There will likely be many questions raised by your class that do not need to be answered during this lesson. However some of the questions (particularly about the rover itself) may need to be answered so that everyone can move on to the next step. So, assure your class that you will give them a Continuum Rover Fact Sheet that will provide the information they need.

7. Focus on the search for evidence of life

Acknowledge all brainstormed suggestions, then direct focus to ideas that relate to the search for life. Facilitate discussion about the kinds of things we will need to know to search for evidence of life. Use prompting questions such as:

  • What do we need to know in order to search for evidence of life?
  • How do we define life?
  • What are the conditions for life?
  • Where does life thrive today and in the past?
  • How can we recognise these past environments from the present landscape?
  • What traces of life could we look for?

Have everyone form small teams to list ideas. Or place flipchart paper around the classroom with the above questions and have teams contribute suggestions and ideas.

8. How does NASA do it?

Confirm thoughts and ideas by finding out how NASA looks for evidence.

How does NASA look for evidence of life?

Biological potential
Does it have the basic ingredients of life (eg. carbon, water)?
Geology and geochemistry
Are there certain environments where we know that life thrived on early Earth and even thrives today (eg. lakes and places where water collects)?
Water and weather
Mars has water in its atmosphere today, but in its past it had rivers, lakes, maybe ocean – a much more vigorous hydrologic cycle.
Life hazards
What would cause Mars not to be a habitable planet? (eg. UV, harmful radiation, lack of oxygen)

9. Develop a scientific goal for the photographic exploration

Remind everyone that they will only have access to the Continuum Rover’s cameras, so their exploration is based on visual identification of surface features.

Then, divide the class into 5 mission teams of 3 to 6 members. These teams will work together for the pre and post mission stages of the 60MOM unit.

Instruct teams to draft a scientific goal for the 60 minutes on Mars photographic exploration. Share and compare goals.

  •  We will look for and take photographs of structures and features on the surface that may be evidence that Mars once provided a habitat for life.
  • We will use our 60 minutes to look for and take photos of things on Mars that may be evidence for life.
  • Look for things that indicate that Mars once had liquid water.
  • We will explore the surface to try to find structures that form in water on Earth.
  • We will use the rover to photograph features on the Mars surface that are similar to features on Earth that have and do support life.

10. Write a single mission goal

Facilitate the class in combining their individual drafted scientific goals to arrive at a single mission scientific goal for the whole class.
Place the final mission goal in a position where everyone can see it, ready for the next lesson.

11. Homework

Ask the class to find and bring in one or more pictures or articles about unusual places or extreme environments on Earth where life has been found to exist. End of section