Mars Mission Design: Teacher Page
NASA started the Discovery Program in 1992 to fund new planetary missions that would cost ten times less than traditional missions, and take just three years (rather than decades) to build and fly. Discovery probes save time and money by carrying fewer in struments and accepting a higher risk of failure than traditional probes. But this allows NASA to fly more of them, and keep up with fast-changing technologies better.
The Discovery Program solicits competitive proposals from teams comprised of industry, small businesses, and universities. The proposing teams select the science goals and instruments, as well as the spacecraft design. NASA evaluates proposals on their science merits, cost, use of new technology, public outreach, and education. NASA is betting that this radical management approach can accommodate fluctuating budgets and increased public demand for a more relevant and interesting space program.
Mars Pathfinder, launched in December 1996, was the first Discovery Mission funded by NASA. Mars Pathfinder successfully landed on Mars on July 4, 1997.
This activity challenges students to design a Discovery-class mission to Mars using realistic cost and technical considerations. Students need to have some knowledge of Mars as a planet, particularly its climate and the behavior of water on its surface. A useful Mars resource page is The Apollo Society's Apollo Launch Pad "Mars Terminal" which provides many links to Mars related information and resources available on the internet. Before they start this exercise, students should be able to make several comparisons between Mars and Earth. Spend time familiarizing them with the terminology listed on their work sheets.
Students will work in design teams. Each team will need the Student Pages and Mission Cards listed in the Mission Design Kit, plus the Mars Maps that are included with this exercise. You can find more detailed maps and information about Mars at the Atlas of Mars and Viking Orbiter image-finder at http://ic-www.arc.nasa.gov/ic/projects/bayes-group/Atlas/Mars/, and at the Planetary Data System's "Mars Explorer for the Armchair Astronaut"
For final presentations, use the following categories to create the Mission Planning Board: Science Goals, Launch Vehicle, Date of Launch/Arrival, Method of Arrival, Surface Equipment, Cost. A map of Mars is also helpful.
The U.S. Geological Survey sells large 3-sheet contour maps (I-2030) and 3-sheet geologic maps (I-1802) covering the Polar, Eastern and Western hemispheres. You can find an Index of Maps of the Planets and Satellites at The US Geological Survey Flagstaff Science Center. The Planetary Society sells the single-sheet Explorer's Guide to Mars, an excellent permanent classroom reference poster.
This is a four-day half-period activity for groups of 6 students. On the final day, each team, led by its Coordinator, will present its Mission Plan.
On Day 1, form mission design teams of no less than 6, give each team a Mission Design Kit, and explain that their job is to design a Discovery Mission to Mars. The Coordinator leads a team discussion about possible mission goals, then chooses two.
On Day 3, the Flight Director decides when to launch and how the spacecraft will arrive at Mars. At this point, the Launch Director and Project Administrator should be able to get all the information they need to tally up the spacecraft mass and cost.
On Day 4, each group presents its mission plan to the class by showing their landing sites on a map and taping the appropriate graphics to the Mission Planning Board at the front of the class.
A seventh or extra student in a team should act as a Consultant on Day 2, helping the Engineer, the Scientist, and the Flight Director design the spacecraft. In particular, the Consultant should help the scientist recommend engineering instruments to round out the science instruments, and check to be sure that every vehicle has communications links. They should receive and fill out a copy of the Engineer's student page.
The final presentations give students a chance to share their design
trade-offs. Watch for the relevance of the science and engineering
instruments to the goals set by the Coordinator. Also check to be sure
that all the communications links are in place to relay information
from, for example, the rover to the base station to Earth. Conclude the
activity by discussing the Pathfinder Mission's goals, landing site,
and instruments, using the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Pathfinder
Fact Sheet (http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa.gov/mpf/fact_sheet.html) as a guide.