Redesign the Rover: Mars Research Year-Round

By Anna Bennett, November 16, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

2 50-minute periods


This lesson is designed to be a short warm-up to a unit on the solar system or space systems in general. It uses a design problem as a jumping-off point to discuss the nature of the solar system, the planets, periods of orbit and revolution, and the exploration of space. This is an interesting way to integrate design and technology into the discussion of solar orbits and seasons in space, making it a little more relevant to our everyday life than the typical study of just the solar orbit of the Earth. The lesson asks students to read an article about the NASA Mars program, identify the design problems presented in the article, and to identify the natural forces at work (i.e. solar orbits) that are contributing to the problem. Then students brainstorm ways that they might design a Mars rover that could withstand the natural forces at work on Mars in order to conduct research year-round. The goals for the class are to:
  • engage students in a discussion about design and design problem-solving
  • engage students in the idea of Mars research and its importance to understanding our planet
  • students will demonstrate understanding of solar orbit and the problem it presents to the Mars Rover
  • students will be able to compare the seasons and orbit of Mars to that of Earth

National Standards

Agricultural Education Standard 5.  Understands strategies used in natural resource management and conservation Engineering Education Standard 5. Understands energy and power types, sources, and conversions Standard 9. Understands elements of planning construction projects Standard 14. Uses the design process to solve problems Geography Standard 16. Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources Technology Standard 3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual Standard 4. Understands the nature of technological design Standard 5. Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:
  • compare the seasons and solar orbit of Mars to that of Eart
  • read an article and analyze design problems based on the information given
  • brainstorm ideas on how NASA might solve its Rover design problem to continue research on Mars year-round
  • discuss the importance of the study of Mars and its implications for life on Earth


Article on the Mars Probe, copied below: NASA forced to end Mars probe Phoenix, the robotic probe that identified water on the planet Mars, has lost contact with Earth due to the changing seasons. As a result, NASA the U.S. government agency for National Aeronautics and Space Administration has had to end the mission. "As anticipated, seasonal decline in sunshine at the robot's arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander's instruments," NASA said in an official statement. The last signal Phoenix sent to Earth was received on November 2; however, NASA engineers will continue to monitor the situation for three weeks in the unlikely event the probe sends another signal. The total length of the mission was just over five months, which was two full months longer than originally scheduled. NASA extended the mission after confirming the presence of water on Mars. Now, NASA scientists will begin to fully analyze the data collected during the mission. Initial data confirms the presence of water found in soil, small concentrations of salt, and that the soil was somewhat alkaline (not acidic as in other places on Mars). The main objective of the Phoenix mission on Mars, also referred to as the Red Planet, was to determine whether life, likely in the form of microbes, has ever been sustained or could be sustained on the planet. Water is a necessary element in order to sustain life, which is why the discovery of water on Mars is so noteworthy. Phoenix, which was the first probe to successfully land in a polar region on Mars, took 25,000 pictures with the first atomic force microscope ever used outside the boundaries of Earth. Currently, there are two other probes on Mars the Spirit and Opportunity. Mars is located 422 million miles from Earth. It revolves around the sun once every 687 Earth days. Q1. What made NASA lose contact with the Phoenix probe? Q2. Why was the Phoenix mission extended beyond the original three month period? Q3. Why is water such a significant discovery on Mars?


  • copies of the article above, one for each student
  • chart paper or other form of note demonstration such as a white board
  • PowerPoint slideshow on solar orbits


  • revolution: the length of time it takes an object to revolve around the sun
  • rotation: the length of time it takes an object to rotate around its axis
  • perihelion: when a body is closest to the sun in its revolution
  • aphelion: when a body is farthest away from the sun in its revolution
  • solar power: electricity generated by the capturing of the sun's energy


Day 1 Introduction 1.  Teacher will begin the class with an introduction to Mars and why we are studying it as a planet: because it closely resembles Earth in size and rotational speed, and also because we now have evidence that water once existed on this neighboring planet. 2.  Have the students respond to the following prompt in a journal or notebook to get their thinking started: If we could no longer support life on Earth, what qualities would we have to look for in a new planet? What would we need in order to make life as close to what we have on Earth now? Planetary Rotation and Revolution 3.  Using the PowerPoint slideshow included in this lesson plan, engage the students in a discussion of the concepts of rotation and revolution and the differences between the two. 4.  Discuss how the Earth’s revolution is the cause of the Earth’s 365-day year and how the tilt of the Earth’s axis causes us to experience seasons as we revolve around the sun. 3.  Discuss how the rotation of the Earth around its axis, which takes a little under 24 hours, is responsible for the length of the Earth’s day. 4.  Compare the length of the Earth’s rotation and the length of the Earth’s revolution to those of Mars, based on the chart on planetary motion in the PowerPoint show—how does the Martian day and year compare to that of Earth? Have the students draw a diagram representing the differences between the planets. 5.  Scientists often look to Mars as a place where humans could potentially live in the event that Earth is no longer habitable—how would the differences in the speed of rotation and revolution affect life on Mars? Day 2 Introduction 1.  Teacher should have on the board the steps to the design method so that during the lesson students can reference the process while they work.  Write the following on the board: The Design Process
  • Identify the problem or opportunity
  • Investigate the problem or opportunity: Gather and analyze information through interviewing, observing, documenting, modeling, weighing choices, identifying your client
  • Frame/Reframe the problem: Make sure that you have identified the right problem to solve
  • Generate possible solutions
  • Edit/Develop ideas: talk with your group about what ideas have the most potential
  • Evaluate your ideas Create your solution: Create diagrams, models, and presentations; organize your resources and notes
  • Re-Evaluate your solution: Take feedback and analyze how you could make your solution even better
2.  Teacher should pass out a copy of the article to each student and have them take out their journals or notebooks to take notes on what they find interesting or what they have questions about while reading The Mars Rover- problems and possibilities 3.  Using your favorite technique, have the students read the article on NASA’s Mars Rover program and the recent challenges it has faced due to the oncoming Martian winter (I find it works best when students are reading aloud). 4.  Have the students answer the three discussion questions at the end of the article in their notebooks independently and then discuss the results as a class when they are done. 5.  Using the Design Method on the board, have students, in groups of two, work through the steps of the design process using the information in the article. The goal here is to use the information presented in class the day before along with the article to identify the problems with the Rover as it is—possible problems the students could identify are that the scientists didn’t account for the lack of sunlight  and should have included a backup power source on the rover, the scientists should have programmed the Rover to change locations during the winter in order to get more sunlight, scientists should have launched the Rover sooner in the Martian year, etc. 6.  Have the student pairs or groups of 3 come up with a solution to the Mars Rover problem, whether it’s a new design for the Rover itself or a change in the execution of the program. 7.  At the end of the class period, have groups share some of their ideas of changes to the NASA program and how it might help solve the Rover problem.


  • Have students write a response to the article questions in their notebooks or journals (these entries should be checked for comprehension and understanding of the subject).
  • Have students take notes on their design ideas in their notebooks as well

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