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Guide Index

Out of Thin Air

NASA's Way to Mars

Why Go to Mars?

We're on Our Way

Houston, We've Had a Problem!

Getting There

Viewer Challenge
in the classroom
TEACHING GUIDES


Journey to Mars: Getting There


Space travelers heading to or from Mars would be weightless for a long time and need to adapt quickly to gravity upon landing at their destination. To find out what happens to motor skills in changing gravity, Alan Alda braves the human-rated centrifuge. Viewers will also get a preview of the latest designs in space suits during a simulated microfossil hunt in the Arizona Desert.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Activity: Shoebox Planet




CURRICULUM LINKS


EARTH SCIENCE

space flight

LIFE SCIENCE

nervous system

PHYSICAL
SCIENCE


forces, gravity, microgravity




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / LIFE SCIENCE
5-8: Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
9-12: Behavior of Organisms
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
5-8,
9-12:
Abilities of Technological Design
SCIENCE IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES
5-8: Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Science and Technology in Local, National and Global Challenges
HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8,
9-12:
Science as a Human Endeavor




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES





ACTIVITY: SHOEBOX PLANET

Until recently, Earthlings could only observe Mars from a great distance. Telescopes, the Mariner and Viking missions and, recently, Pathfinder have brought the planet closer to us. Despite the thousands of images we have of Mars, we still have only snapshots and not the complete picture of the planet's surface. The ultimate dream of many scientists is for a human to reach the planet itself and explore it.

Until people land on Mars, science has to rely on probes and pictures for planetary exploration. In this activity, you'll design and use probes to discover features of an unknown planet's surface and compare the probe's accuracy with human observation. Work in groups of two or more.


MATERIALS
  • shoe boxes with lids (1 box per group of students)
  • various materials for constructing planet's surface and surface features (e.g., clay, crumpled paper, cotton, baby powder, fabric, ice, soil, water, lemon juice, "slime," etc.)
  • examples of probes that might be used to sample surface (e.g., litmus paper, lab thermometer, wires, straws)
PROCEDURE

PART 1: DESIGNING THE PLANET

shoebox figure 1
  1. Draw a grid on the top of the box and punch a hole the size of a pencil in the middle of each space on the grid (see FIGURE 1). Your class should agree on a set size for the spaces in the grid.

  2. Design a planet surface with varied features. As a class, brainstorm different features (see FIGURE 2) you might incorporate into your designs. Then work with a partner to create your planet inside your shoebox. Vary surface features by including different heights, textures, densities, liquids with different pH's, etc. Keep designs secret from classmates until after exploration.


shoebox figure 2


PART 2: DESIGNING PROBES

shoebox figure 3 Design a series of probes to be used to explore another team's planet (see FIGURE 3). Each probe can be used more than once, but the planet can be probed no more than a total of 30 times.

PART 3: IMAGING THE PLANET

  1. Launch probes by inserting them through the holes in the grid of another team's planet to the surface.

    shoebox figure 4
  2. Collect data and record results (see FIGURE 4). In the first round of exploration, teams should probe the surface ten times.

  3. When ten probes of the surface are complete, prepare a brief preliminary report that includes a description of features, as well as a simple drawing of the surface. Adjust your exploration plan based on the data you've already collected.

  4. Now, using the preliminary data and report, probe the planet 20 more times and record results.

  5. Prepare a final report and surface drawing based on your additional probes.

  6. Take off the lid and compare the report to the actual surface of the planet.
QUESTIONS

  1. How does the picture of the planet defined by your probes compare to reality?

  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of sending people to investigate a planet, rather than probes or robots?





 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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