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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: NASA's Way to Mars


Space travel is hazardous. On this episode of Frontiers, NASA engineers demonstrate how a tiny particle can punch a giant hole in a space ship. NASA's new way of thinking includes an inflatable space habitat, the Transhab, which uses layered fabric walls. The wall is tested to see what happens when it's bombarded by space debris. Will fabric layers protect astronauts? Find out on the show.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Activity: Make a Mars Lander




CURRICULUM LINKS


PHYSICAL
SCIENCE


drag, materials, velocity

EARTH
SCIENCE


astronomy, asteroids, meteors, solar system

TECHNOLOGY


engineering, space flights




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / PHYSICAL SCIENCE
5-8,
9-12:
Motions and Forces
EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE
5-8: Earth in the Solar System
9-12: Origin and Evolution of the Universe
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
5-8,
9-12:
Abilities of Technological Design
SCIENCE IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES
5-8: Natural Hazards, Risks and Benefits, Science and Technology in Society
9-12: Natural Resources
HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8: Science as a Human Endeavor
9-12: Historical Perspectives




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES





ACTIVITY: MAKE A MARS LANDER

Imagine a bouncing spacecraft coming to rest on an alien planet. Giant balloons that surround the rocket deflate and out rolls a robotic vehicle. This may sound like science fiction, but it's science fact. The Mars lander Pathfinder was launched in December 1996 and entered the Martian atmosphere in July 1997. The lander deployed a parachute to slow down. Inflated air bags protected the lander as it bounced more than 15 times. NASA's radical "faster, cheaper, better" design and the success of Pathfinder launched a new era of space exploration.

Can you build a bouncing lander? Take the challenge and find out. In this activity, you'll design, construct and test an original model. Hold a contest to see which landers work best to keep your cargo from breaking.


MATERIALS
  • raw eggs
  • markers
  • tape
  • packing "peanuts"
  • chenille stems (pipe cleaners)
  • balloons (various sizes)
NOTE: You may wish to replace eggs with water-filled balloons or use plastic eggs for a practice round.

PROCEDURE

  1. Use chenille stems to construct a harness around an egg.

  2. Work with a partner or in teams to make your basic bouncer. Discuss the best way to cushion an egg's fall using two or more air-filled balloon bumpers.

  3. Blow up the balloons and fasten them to the harness with tape so they surround the egg with a cushion.

  4. Drop the "lander" several times from a height of three feet. Observe the orientation of the egg when the lander comes to rest.

  5. This side up! Use the marker to place an "X" on the top of the narrow egg dome. Redesign the lander so that when it comes to rest, the "X" always faces upwards. Use extra balloons, packing peanuts and chenille stems as needed.
picture of balloon lander


EXTENSIONS

  1. Some critics of space exploration say it's too expensive. Assign "costs" to materials used to make your lander. For example, each chenille stem costs $100; eggs cost $200; balloons, $500 (count the ones that break, too). How much does each lander cost? Which lander is successful and comes in at the lowest cost?

  2. Engineer Robert Zubrin describes his Mars hab as a "tuna can." Each hab is 8 meters (less than 30 feet) in diameter. In the gym or outside, use string or chalk to measure and draw a circle the size of the hab. Compare the dimensions to other structures, like a car or tent. Talk about what it might be like for four people to spend six months living in the hab.

  3. One of the concerns about a trip to Mars is bombardment by high-speed space particles that could damage or even rupture the ship's hull. The particles tested on Frontiers each have a mass of about 1.5g. One piece of M&M candy has a mass of 1g. Can your lander survive a shower of M&M particles? What happens to the space vehicle as the particles become larger? Consider the tradeoffs (heavier protective shield, more weight, higher costs; lighter shield, less protection, lower costs).

  4. Thousands of images from the Pathfinder mission are archived on the Internet, along with details on the mission, scientific results, instruments and more at mars.jpl.nasa.gov/MPF/index0.html.





 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.