A Chance For Students To Participate In A Mission To Mars.

Mars Perseverance Rover | Photo by Mars.NASA.gov

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to dominate our lives and most students participating in distance learning teachers are working extra hard to find projects to keep their students interested in learning. I stumbled upon a project that teachers and students alike could join with enthusiasm.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology posted an article on their website January 8, 2021 titled “Celebrate the Perseverance Rover with NASA’s Student Challenge.” Quoting the article “The Rover touches down on the Red Planet next month, and students are invited to join the excitement by designing, building, and landing their own Mars Mission. NASA can help.”

Perseverance Rover Landing Site | Photo by NASA

The Perseverance Rover will be landing on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021 and NASA wants students to be able to feel connected to the project. How can they do that? NASA says that “Classrooms, informal education groups, families, and individuals can design, build and land their own spacecraft – just like NASA scientists and engineers do.” They have even prepared a Mars 2020 STEM toolkit containing videos, activities and more. You can register to join in the landing of Perseverance Rover with you own homemade rover at: Mission to Mars Student Challenge.

The greatest challenge the NASA scientists have to overcome is what they call the “seven minutes of terror” which are the minutes it takes for the spacecraft to penetrate through the atmosphere and then safely land on the Martian surface. Perseverance will be the largest and heaviest rover ever to land on Mars considering it is the size of an RV. It will take surviving the fiery plunge through the Martian atmosphere (as long as the heat shield holds up, the deployment of the parachute, and firing of the breaking rockets. The spacecraft will then gently lower Perseverance to the surface on nylon cables.

Elements of Possible Activities in the Perseverance Rover Challenge | Image by NASA

Here are the activities listed for the challenge:

  1. A flexible, guided five-week education plan for elementary, middle and high school students with standards-aligned STEM lessons and activities from NASA.
  2. A weekly newsletter with links to tips and resources related to the mission phase of the week.
  3. Video conversations with mission scientists and engineers highlighting how their work relates to what students are learning – plus ideas to kick-start the weekly challenge.
  4. Opportunities to participate in Q&As with mission experts and to submit student questions and work that could be featured during NASA broadcasts leading up to and on landing day.

Let’s take a quick look back at some of the information about Perseverance from my previous columns.

A contest was held for students to pick a name for the new Mars Rover. A seventh-grader named Alexander Mather from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Virginia chose the name that was deemed the winner: “Perseverance.”

Phases of Flight
Main Phases of Mars 2020 Flight | Image by Research Gate

This rover will carry something special strapped to its belly. That is a specially made helicopter.

Helicopter close-up 2
Mars Helicopter Close-up | Photo by NASA JPL Through Aviation Week

This unique helicopter is composed of “more that 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil, and foam.”Earlier this year the helicopter was tested to make sure it would function properly. Quoting NASA Science from the mars.nasa.gov site: “Weighing in at no more than 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms), the helicopter is a technology demonstration project currently going through the rigorous verification process certifying it for Mars.

Our Mars Perseverance Rover will be collecting soil, rock and mineral samples on the Red Planet soon, but it won’t be a simple task.” The scientists had to figure out the best locations in which to find the samples they wanted and the engineers had to find a way to actually collect and store the samples so they could be properly examined.

Drilling Rocks
Tool For Collecting Rock Samples | Photo by americaspace.com

It’s called the Sample Caching System. The system is comprised of some 3,000 parts. Perseverance is a step above any other rover that is now in space. It is actually three robots. Quoting from the chief engineer for the Mars rover mission Adam Seltzner on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website “For us to collect the first samples of mars for return to Earth, in place of two astronauts [as with the Moon landings] we have three robots that have to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

I can’t wait for the February 18th Perseverance Rover landing. The NASA Mars Student Challenge could very well be the stimulus needed for many students to decide that their educational future will involve one or many of the sciences involved in projects like the development of the Perseverance rover and its Mars landing.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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