Stellar Activities to Teach Kids About NASA’s Newest Mars Rover

Credit: NASA

NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet on February 18th, 2021. NASA is inviting everyone to be a part of history by holding live streams leading up to the landing and on the big day (see the live stream schedule here). This huge step for human space exploration is a great opportunity to inspire your kids to learn more about space! We collected some of out-of-this-world activities to help you transport your kids to the cosmos!

The Science of Mars Exploration 

Have you ever wanted to visit other planets? Well, many scientists think we could someday – and the first place they plan to go is Mars! Mars is one of the eight planets in the Solar System. It’s the fourth one from the Sun, right next door to Earth! 

To study Mars up close, scientists have to send robots called rovers. How do they get them there, you ask? Rockets, of course! Check out the projects below to learn more about the physics of rockets.

Straw Rockets (Ages 3-8)

How fast do you think a rocket needs to go in order to launch into orbit? A shuttle needs to go from zero to 18,000 miles per hour (29,000 kilometers per hour) to get to space! (This is nine times faster than the speed of a rifle bullet!) While these paper straw rockets don’t fly nearly as fast, we had a bunch of fun watching them zoom off. Give it a try and see how well your rockets fly!

Pressure Bottle Rocket (Ages 9-16)

In this DIY project, we’ll learn how to use the exact sample principles found in water squirters to launch a water rocket sky-high! Follow along with these simple steps and you’ll be blasting off in no time.

Meet the Mars Rovers

The robots that scientists send to explore the surface of Mars are called rovers. Only a few special rovers have been made, and each one was designed with specific features to help it investigate the Red Planet. The previous four rovers (Curiosity, Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner) studied the formation and geology of Mars. Back in 2012, the Curiosity rover found evidence that there were once lakes and rivers of flowing water there!  

Now, scientists have sent Perseverance, the newest rover, which is designed to search for signs of ancient life. It has more science instruments than any other rover, with a whopping 23 cameras and two microphones that it will use to look for signs of ancient bacteria and single-celled organisms on the Red Planet.

Make a Cardboard Rover

Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

As you and your child learn more about the rovers, challenge them to make a cardboard rover courtesy of NASA!

Mars Helicopter

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Along with a brand new rover, the Red Planet will also be receiving its very first helicopter on the 18th! The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is uniquely designed to fly in the Martian atmosphere, and it will mark humanity’s first attempt to fly on another planet. 

Build your very own Mars Helicopter at home with one of these DIY projects!

Paper Spinning Helicopters

If you’ve ever been near a maple tree in the late summer or early fall, you’ve probably watched their seeds twirl down from high branches and fall near the base of the tree. These seeds are a natural example of how helicopters work by creating lift!

Rubber Band Helicopter

Learn about helicopters by making a rubber band powered flying toy! Ask your child to imagine how their helicopter would fly on Mars. What design changes would they make?

How to Land on Mars

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Landing on Mars is seriously hard.  So hard, that less than half of the missions humans have sent there have landed successfully. Share these fun facts about landing on Mars with your child, then try the activity below!

7 Minutes of Terror | It will take about 7 minutes for Perseverance to travel from the top of Mars’s atmosphere to its surface. Scientists call this part of a mission the “Seven Minutes of Terror.”

Autonomous Landing | Perseverance is designed to land on Mars all by itself, meaning no humans will be controlling it during the landing sequence! 

Supersonic Parachute | To help it land safely, engineers have equipped Perseverance’s spacecraft with a supersonic parachute. The parachute is over 70 feet (21 meters) in diameter, about the size of a tennis court!

DIY Parachute

Follow this activity to stage a Mars landing at home with your very own parachute! What would you land on Mars?

Watch the Perseverance landing LIVE!

The NASA TV broadcast from Mission Control starts at 11:15 a.m. PST/2:15 p.m. EST on February 18th. Watch it here.

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