Mission to Mars

By amanda hyman, August 27, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

275 minutes for classroom activities


After learning about elements of space and space travel, as well as five different body systems (circulatory, digestive, skeletal/muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous), students will design a product that will help astronauts travel to Mars.  Students will take the information they have learned about how body systems work on Earth, as well as in outerspace, to construct a product that helps counteract a difficulty astronauts have with a specific body system while in space or on Mars.  Students will have the opportunity to design this product using materials provided by teachers as well as any materials they may wish to bring in.  The design process will allow students to combine their creativity with their subject matter knowledge to solve a complex problem.

National Standards


Students will be able to:
  • understand how the different body systems (i.e circulatory, digestive system, skeletal/muscular system, etc.) work, and how they work differently or similarly in space.
  • design a product specifically for astronauts.


lap top computers


  • lab notebooks with class notes
  • lap top computers with internet access
  • cardboard
  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils
  • various art supplies as needed


Students will use vocabulary from previous lessons about space and the body’s systems.


1. Students will be assigned to their design groups. (Helpful hint: groups should heterogeneous and chosen by the teacher. This helps ensure that students of all levels can work on some aspect of the project that is appropriate for his or her level. No more than five students per group. (5 minutes) 2. Introduction to the Challenge and Constraints: (20 minutes) The Challenge: Students will work in teams to design one aspect of a spacecraft that will help astronauts during the flight to and from Mars or during the time spent on Mars.  The students’ designs must align with one or more of the challenges to one or more of the body’s systems have been discussed in class.  (For example: “Astronauts need to bring a lot of food and water for the trip.  I will design special food canisters for the journey.”) Constraints:  Students will use the constraints of space travel that were given to them in class.  For example, space travel is expensive and every pound that is taken on the spacecraft must be considered in their design and the materials in their design. 3. Students will be given ten minutes to review their notes from their study of the body’s systems and choose their top two choices for which system/problem they would like to work on.  Teachers will give groups their topic based on their choices. 4. Within their groups, students will review the challenge and tailor the challenge to their specific body system and difficulty in space.  They will narrow their challenge to focus on one aspect and come up with a list of criteria and constraints for their specific topic.  (20 minutes) 5. Investigate: Students will further investigate the problem by using the internet to do research.  Then teachers will act as a panel of astronauts of whom students can ask questions about their difficulties during space travel.  “Astronauts” will give their personal opinions based on information they know about space travel.  (25 minutes) 6. Frame/Reframe: After research and discussion, students will assess the problem that they chose and finalize what problem they plan to solve. (10 minutes) 7. Generate Solutions:  Students will have a brainstorming period of fifteen minutes where they work on ideas to solve the problem as a group. They will be encouraged to sketch, draw, and use models to think of ideas.  Then they will have an additional fifteen minutes where they must work alone to brainstorm ideas.  After that, they will have fifteen more minutes to continue brainstorming as a group.  Each student must produce some evidence that they participated in this process, whether it be a drawing, a written description, or an internet model. (45 minutes) 8. Edit and Evaluate: Students will choose one of the ideas and develop one of the ideas into a solution.  After students have chosen that one idea, they will each work alone for fifteen minutes to come up with different variations of that idea by writing or sketching.  Students will create a “voice thread” for one of their ideas. (“Voice thread” is a way to share ideas with a group of people in many mediums on the internet.  Students can draw, speak, and download pictures to present the material.  See voicethread.com for instructions on voice threads.  This step is not necessary if voicethread.com is not available, and students can present their ideas to their group and their teacher in another way.)  Students will share their “voice thread” with their group and their teacher. After they present their ideas, the group will choose one and work on that one idea together.  They will create sketches, diagrams, and models of this prototype. (60 minutes) 9. Share and Evaluate: After students have finished their prototype, they will share their ideas with one other group as well as one “astronaut” from the panel.  Students will give each other feedback and have the opportunity to ask each other questions. (15 minutes) 10. Finalize: Students will finalize their ideas and create a five-minute presentation that will include all of their work thus far.  They will be required to have diagrams, a model, and a written paragraph explaining their product.  They will explain the product and talk about how their product addresses the needs of their clients (the astronauts).  Each student must participate in their group’s presentation and must have a speaking role. Students can use any medium they wish for their presentation.(30 minutes) 11. Articulate:  Students will present their designs to the class as well as the panel of “astronauts.” (60 minutes)  


Students will be assessed by daily teacher observation, and by completing a goal checklist everyday in which they write what they want to accomplish for that class period and for homework that evening. Students will all create a “voice thread” to present brainstorming ideas, and this will be assessed. Students’ assessments will be based on how well their designs address the difficulties the astronauts will have in space, as well as showing their understanding of why they will have those difficulties based on the body system they have chosen and the aspect of space they have chosen to work on.

Enrichment Extension Activities

This activity can be expanded to other subject areas by having students develop a society on another planet.  They can explore about many aspects of society, such as government, social norms, and what makes a community.

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