This week, students put on their engineer hats and became rocket scientists as they designed landing gear for their Mars Rovers. After a brief history of the exploration of Mars and a study of the different types of Rovers that NASA has sent to Mars, students worked in teams to create their own landing equipment. Their mission, a competition among groups, was to land their “Egg Rovers” safely on Mars.
Challenged to design rover landing gear with NASA’s 1990’s philosophy, FASTER BETTER CHEAPER, the students collaborated and worked together to design prototypes. They received points based on how well they worked, how fast they worked and how conservative they were with the materials they used. Furthermore, teams that wrote out their procedures (along with drawing and labeling their prototypes), as well as had the most original design also were awarded points. They used materials such as balloons, paper, pipe cleaners, puffed rice, plastic bags, tape and paper cups to build their landing devices. Students were also allowed to provide materials from home, upon additional research and/or assistance from their family members. The winners of the competition had to successfully land their Rover (unbroken egg) as well as to keep all the guidelines in mind.
All the teams engineering designs were very creative and, regardless of the outcome, the students all had a “smashing” good time while practicing their teamwork, planning, and engineering skills. Don’t forget to ask your student what made the landing technology of Spirit and Opportunity different than other landing missions — hint: it was a type of landing that was less expensive and less precise, but absorbed more impact.
Additional Information, for those interested: http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/home/index.html
For consideration after today’s lesson (remember some of the things we talked about):
- Why was it important to collaborate? Would assigning roles help your team? Why or why not?
- How was doing research before working on your prototype together helpful?
- What designs worked best? Why? What about those prototypes made them successful? What materials were best for building and why?
- What would you do differently if you had to redesign your prototype?
- If you were hired for NASA, which landing method would you recommend the engineering team to consider? Why?
Also, remember to fill out your moon calendar EVERY day this month!!! We’ll talk about it in our next lesson together!
Questions of the day
1. What makes rust?
This is a great question and very relevant to Mars! Do you know why Mars is called the red planet? It’s because of all the rust that’s on the planet! The planet is made up of a lot of iron and when iron rusts, it turns a brownish-red color. Rusted iron is also (scientifically) known as iron oxide. This means that it was exposed to oxygen and water! When iron and oxygen combine (or react) under the presence of water (or air moisture), iron oxide or rust is formed.
2. Is it possible for there to be different life forms on other planets?
This is a very debated question, but one that fuels a lot of our space missions. Some scientists believe that we, along with all the other living organisms on this planet, are here because of a very small probability. These scientists do not think that other life forms exist because the conditions that allowed our life form to exist were so rare, that it was unlikely to be repeated elsewhere. On the other hand, other scientists argue that with the number of infinite stars that exist in the universe and the number of Goldilocks planets that orbit those stars, there MUST be other life out there. Since we still haven’t discovered any lifeforms, we cannot confirm which theory is accurate, but both theories model possible explanations through mathematics and statistical probability.
What do you think?
3. How do you make robots?
We talked a little about robots today! Rovers, which have landed on Mars, are all robots! In fact, Mars is the only known planet entirely occupied by robots (at least for now). So, population of Mars: humans = 0; robots = 12, with a few more orbiting the planet. Only Opportunity and Curiosity, both American robots, are still in operation!
So how can you make them? Robots are created by putting together a lot of smaller parts or units into a larger working machines. They use simple machines to create complex machines. In order to work, they need an energy source, either a battery or they plug into the wall. They also need to have a movable body, with joints and wheels and some system that would move these parts, which would usually include electric motors along with electromagnetic parts, some use a hydraulic system, and some use a pneumatic system (a system driven by compressed gases). Robots do become more complicated. Ultimately, after they are built, the robots are programmed through a computer system where they are “commanded” through different computer code and functions.