The Mission to Mars curricular unit introduces students to Mars the Red Planet. Students discover why scientists are so interested in studying this mysterious planet. Many interesting facts about Mars are revealed, and the history of Martian exploration is reviewed. Students will learn about the development of robotics and how robots are beneficial to science, society and the exploration of space. Details on engineers' involvement in space exploration are presented. Furthermore, students will learn how orbits allow astronauts to move from planet to planet and what type of equipment is used by scientists and engineers to safely explore space. Lastly, the specific details on and human risks for a possible future manned mission to Mars (and back to Earth again!) are discussed.
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This lesson will start with a brief history of robotics and explain how robots are beneficial to science and society. The lesson then will explore how robots have been used in recent space exploration efforts. The engineering design of the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will be used as prime examples. Finally, the maneuverability of their robotic arms and the functionality of their tools will be discussed.
Students generally do not know the complexity that goes into building and programming a robotic arm. In actuality, creating such an arm comes from a design that involves mechanical, electrical, and computer science engineers. This activity allows students to control a robotic arm from both a machine's and a computer science engineer's perspective by letting them perform a simple task with a few entertaining instructions and constraints.