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February 19, 2021

Classroom Resource: NASA rover lands on Mars, resuming search for remnants of life

Cover photo: Perseverance rover is shown to be lowered to Martian surface by jet-powered “sky crane” descent vehicle in this undated illustration handout. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS

 

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Directions: Read the summary, watch the video featuring reporting by Miles O’Brien and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript of the video above, click here

Summary: The U.S. is back on the Red Planet after a nearly 300-million-mile journey. NASA celebrated late Thursday afternoon when it landed its latest rover on Mars. The rover is designed to explore new areas of the planet and look for clues for past life there.

  • The rover, known as Perseverance, represents NASA’s fifth successful attempt to land a rover on Mars. The latest rover is about the size of an SUV and nuclear powered.
  • Perseverance has landed in a region of Mars that scientists think has a reasonable chance of showing the remains of organic material — the building blocks of life.
  • Perseverance is only designed to search out and collect samples. Another rover currently being designed will collect the samples years from now and return to Earth so scientists can better study their contents.

Discussion:

  1. Have your students identify the 5Ws and an H:
    • What is Perseverance’s mission?
    • When will samples collected by Perseverance arrive back on Earth?
    • Where is the current rover landing on Mars, at what is the significance of the region?
    • Why has NASA chosen Perseverance’s particular regional destination on Mars?
    • How has this landing been more challenging than past Mars landing?

Then have students share with the class or through a Learning Management System (LMS).

2. Focus questions:

  • What do you most want to know about Mars or other features of our solar system? If you could choose one mission for NASA to take on next, what would it be?
  • What new technology do you think would be necessary to complete your chosen mission?
  • Do you think we should be spending billions of dollars ($22.6 billion for fiscal year 2020) each year on NASA? Why or why not?

3. Media literacy: What sort of scientific understanding do you need to have to understand the challenges NASA faced in landing Perseverance on Mars?

Dig deeper: For more on NASA’s current mission to Mars, watch this piece:

Or read this: 5 things you should know about the Mars 2020 mission

You can also watch some or all of the rover landing below:

 

Extension activities:

  • You can use this lesson to explore the invention and innovation needed to put humans on Mars.
  • Many question the cost versus the benefit of programs like NASA and Mars exploration when there are so many pressing needs at home. Still, NASA’s budget only represents under half a percent of the total annual federal budget.

Use this resource by iCivics to discuss federal budgeting and how decisions made a decade ago lead to funding programs like the Perseverance rover. In this lesson, students will be able to:

    • Describe what a budget is.
    • Compare the national budgeting process to the personal budgeting process.
    • Explain the difference between a surplus and a deficit.
    • Explain why and how the government borrows money.
    • Analyze federal spending data.
    • Make cuts to a fictional personal budget.
    • Identify reasons for people’s differing views about government spending.

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