project enabled students to work with LEGO Mindstorm robotics kits,
learning to build a robot, as well as learning about NASA's upcoming
Mars Exploration Rover Missions (launched in May and June, 2003).
After their use in this project, the kits and all material purchased
were donated to Spritridge, so that other students can become involved
in LEGO robotics projects as well.
requires a 50% matching sponsor for their grants, and for that,
the Eastside Astronomical Society stepped in with its support. Many
thanks are in order for both Kirman Taylor and Judy
Mason for making this happen ! We are very grateful to you,
and to all our members, for their generous support in helping to
promote astronomy and science learning in our local schools.
Rover has Landed!" project was intended to simulate, in a classroom
environment, much of what's involved in carrying out a spacecraft
mission to Mars, and specifically to simulate a NASA Mars Exploration
Rover (MER) mission. The primary goals were, 1) to introduce students
to many of the challenges faced in an actual rover mission to Mars,
2) demonstrate that missions are organized into specialized teams,
each contributing and cooperating with each other in order to achieve
success, and (3) to get students excited and knowledgeable about
NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
project was conducted over 5 separate dates, with each session being
about 1 hour long. Students were faced with as much planning, decision
making, manufacturing, testing, and overall experience of operating
a Mars rover, as was possible in a concentrated and instructional
I - Mission Overview & Team Assignments - April 3: Students
were first shown an animation video to get an idea of what our mission
(and the real one) would be like. Then, we had a quick Viking/Pathfinder
slideshow to see what the surface of Mars looks like. We discussed
what we might want to investigate on our mission, and why it could
be important. Students were then divided into 4 separate teams: Geology,
Weather, Imaging and Navigation. Each team was given an understanding
of what would be most important to them, and to decide what specific
goal they would want our rover to accomplish. Geology wanted to find
rocks or landforms showing evidence of water, Weather decided to learn
more about dust devils, Imaging just wanted spectacular images, and
Navigation wanted absolute safety and the least amount of maneuvering
over surface obstacles.
II - Landing Site Selection & Rover Assembly - April 24: We
discussed some important considerations for selecting an "ideal"
landing site. The class was then shown 4 separate Mars Global Surveyor
images on an overhead projector and told to decide on one of them.
They were also shown where exactly on Mars these sites were located
using a Mars globe. We examined each in detail and asked the students
to strongly consider their own teams' goals (for example, Navigation
would want to have a flat, boring site with no potential obstacles,
whereas Imaging would want spectacular landforms). Finally, based
on a total class vote, a landing site was selected. For
assessment purposes, the students were then assigned to write a short
paragraph describing what they considered to be their team's mission,
and what they personally believed we will discover at Mars.
III - Launch Day & Rover Testing - May 1: We launched a large
model rocket on the Spiritridge playfield to symbolically send our
rover off to Mars. Before the launch, we discussed principles of rocket
flight and model rocket safety. With dramatic countdowns, we made
3 launches (2 of which were successful). Later, we returned to the
classroom and tested our fully constructed rover on the floor, providing
it with various obstacles, so that teams could learn its capabilities
and limitations. Students were shown examples of how the rover is
sent a signal with a set of commands, which it then carries out for
a given time sequence.
IV - Mars Arrival - May 22: Using a computer in the classroom
- with internet access and a connection to a large, overhead monitor
- we "received" our first images from of "landing site"
- this was the web interface the class used on the overhead monitor).
4 images of our rover's landing site on Mars were actually of a local
construction site which were then processed in Adobe Photoshop to
appear more Mars-like). An effort was made to give a sense of urgency
- to gather as much information as possible before we lost contact
with our rover.
examination of the images, a map of the landing area with a hexagonal
grid overlay was presented to the class, along with a "token"
to move from the center hexagon (representing the rover arriving
point). The class was told we had only enough energy to spend 100
"operations points". Each hex on the map would require
the expenditure of operation points to move in to, based on the
surrounding terrain. The class decided the best path for the rover
to go - and we tallied the points together until we reached 100.
Each team had its own goals, so the class was forced into some quick
compromises in order to get as much good "data" as possible.
V - Mission Summary - June 12: In our final segment, students
were shown a video recording of the launch of MER-A "Spirit",
which had just occurred 2 days prior. We summarized what was found
at our landing site. For assessment, students were then asked to each
recall their ideas of what we expected to discover and how that compared
with what we actually found. We concluded that we did find good evidence
of water, based on the terrain and rocks found at the landing site,
but that we were still uncertain about how long ago the water actually