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Mission to Mars

In this module, students simulate a launch sequence for a manned mission to Mars. In preparation for the mission, students engage with several small missions (design problems) related to Earth and the solar system, interdependent relationships in ecosystems, energy transfer, and forces. Mission to Mars features a final mission to simulate a rocket launch from Earth and a landing on Mars. Students design, build, and launch a bottle rocket, testing and documenting variables in its flight. They design and test a nose cone for payload and crew so it will detach and safely deliver a lander device to the planet surface.

NGSS addressed by this module:
MS-ESS1-3   MS-LS2-1   MS-PS3-3   MS-PS2-2   MS-ETS1-1   MS-ETS1-3   MS-ETS1-4

Grade Band: 4-8

Download the Lessons

Entire Unit: Mission to Mars
DAYS 1–10: Mission to Mars Teacher Handbook Download

DAY 1: Introduction to the Mission to Mars
Students explore and study a brief history of space travel and some of the engineering challenges that have emerged over time. Students are then presented with the design challenge and the mission elements. Download

DAY 2: Mission #1 — Travel to Mars
Students study interplanetary distances and some basic properties of the Sun. They then explore how these properties might provide propulsion for spacecraft via solar sails. Download

DAY 3: Mission #2 — Living on Mars
Students design a habitat for either a spacecraft to support travel trip to Mars or to reside on the surface of Mars. Download

DAY 4: Mission #3 — Temperature Control
Students build a simple device to demonstrate how spacesuits help keep astronauts alive at temperatures and in environments that are not suitable for humans. Download

DAYS 5, 6, and 7: Final Mission — Leaving Earth
Students construct and launch a simple rocket using pressurized gas. Students collect flight data and make modifications to optimize their rocket’s performance. Download

DAYS 8 and 9: Final Mission — Landing on Mars
Students design and build a cargo module for their soda bottle rocket. In the process, students identify variables, troubleshoot problems, identify design improvements, and record rocket performance data. Download

DAY 10: Selling It to NASA
Students prepare and give oral presentations (with at least one visual). During the presentations, students share their optimal solutions and evaluate solutions from other teams. Students understand how communicating with peers about proposed solutions is critical at all stages of the design process, and how shared ideas can lead to improved designs. Download


The materials created by this collaboration were taught by the authoring teachers in Puget Sound and Houston and in 2015, a second group of teachers taught the lessons and provided feedback to improve the modules. As part of a second iteration of the modules, the senior science editor at Teaching Channel worked with Achieve to integrate the teachers’ feedback while more closely aligning the modules to The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for significant shifts in the way science is taught and learned. In 2016, a panel of science experts from around the country convened for a two day training with Achieve to learn how to incorporate the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuiP) Rubric for Science. As part of the iterative process of improvement, the expert reviewers then completed an EQuIP Rubric for each module. Teaching Channel's senior science editor combined the reviewers input to create a third iteration of the modules that promotes a close alignment to standards while honoring the original expertise of the authoring teachers and engineers.

Partners at the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington and Educate Texas were instrumental in teacher recruitment and the necessary training for this initiative.