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This material was developed for the Live From Mars project by Passport to Knowledge. Live From Mars was a precursor to Mars Team Online.

Teachers' Guide

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Activity A.4: Mission Planning: Geography


  • Students will demonstrate the ability to explain how appropriately or inappropriately researchers, terrestrial or alien, can generalize about a planet's character based on a limited sample of landing sites or observations.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to (1) use latitude and longitude to locate specific locations on Earth, and (2) evaluate that location as a potential landing site for alien space missions.

  • paper/pencils
  • World atlases
  • Mars Mission Logbooks
  • list of possible and actual Viking Landing sites:
  • Engage

    Have students list reasons scientists might want to explore an unknown planet. Ask them if one landing site on an unknown planet would provide all the data necessary to understand that planet. Tell them that in this Activity they must become alien scientists whose mission is to explore Earth! (See also Activity B.2: "Where Next?")

    Possible Viking Landing sites: (NASA EB-112)
    Latitude Longitude
    1. 22° N 48° W
    2. 20° N 108° E
    3. 44° N 10° W
    4. 46° N 110° W
    5. 46° N 150° E
    6. 7° S 43° W
    7. 5° S 5° W

    1. Hand out or otherwise display the chart showing the Martian latitudes and longitudes which were considered possible landing sites for the Viking spacecraft.

    2. Working in small teams, students are to address the following challenge: If MASA (The Martian Aeronautics and Space Administration) sent spacecraft to land at the same latitudes and longitudes on Earth as NASA considered for Mars, where would each spacecraft land? What hazards would be encountered? What might happen to the spacecraft? What would the spacecraft see? Would it detect water? Life? Bacteria? Intelligence?

    3. If you were working for MASA, which sites would you pick for a landing on Earth? Why? For each site, identify the hazards that your spacecraft lander would have to survive. What would you expect to find?

    Organize your information into a chart that you might present at the next MASA Mission Planning meeting.


    Mars Mission Logbook Entry: Research and find out where Pathfinder is scheduled to land and the rationale for choosing this location. See: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/marsland.html
    for Project Scientist Matt Golombek's discussion of why Ares Vallis was chosen.

    • Create a MASA Earth Mission Log: what was your adventure like? Were you scared, excited, curious? What were your first words-back to Mars, or to any Earthlings you met?
    • Create a broadcast news report or a front page of the "Mars Daily News" or the "Snows of Olympus Times," reporting this momentous occasion. ("First Close-ups of Earth: Mobile Lifeforms detected. Each bears unique number plate, and belches Carbon Monoxide. Giant Bi-pedal Parasites inside..."). Include vital Earth statistics and factual information about the landing site as well as human-interest reports from the MASA crew. Tape for your school's Science Expo or parent night, share with administrators-and send to Passport to Knowledge.
    • E-mail other schools involved in LFM. Have students plot their locations on a U.S. and/or world map as you receive replies.

    Suggested URL http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/marsland.html


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