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MARS - Curriculum Guide

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Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our collective imagination like the red planet. Your students will follow the first human mission to Mars, set in 2033, as the crew struggles to land safely and establish a permanent presence on the planet. National Geographic blends a feature-film caliber, scripted drama set in the future with documentary footage of present-day space technology pioneers to trace the quest to make Mars home.

MARS is a global event series of six episodes that suggest what might occur when a carefully planned expedition lands on the Red Planet. The scripted part of the drama tells of six pioneers who are willing to risk their lives in this attempt. Ben Sawyer, the mission commander, is an experienced astronaut and systems engineer who sees this mission as the pinnacle of his career. Hana Seung is the mission pilot, second in command; her twin sister, Joon, stays earthbound, serving as capsule communicator for the Mars mission. Robert Foucault, born in Nigeria and educated at Stanford, is the mission’s mechanical engineer and robotics specialist. Amelie Durand, a French physician and biochemist, cares for both the physical and emotional well-being of the crew. Spanish hydrologist Javier Delgado is responsible for finding and accessing the most important element for human survival on Mars, a supply of water. Rounding out the crew is Marta Kamen, a Russian geologist and exobiologist who is looking for traces of life on Mars.

In addition to this scripted drama, the series presents a number of unscripted interviews and documentary footage with some of the foremost experts engaged in space research today: NASA administrators and former astronauts; Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York; Roger Launius, from the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum; Elon Musk, the CEO and chief technology officer of SpaceX; and many more. This experimental format of blending scripted and unscripted elements adds depth to the drama of these pioneers to experience the challenges, excitement, and hazards of life on Mars.


The National Geographic Channel global event series MARS provides an opportunity to couple an exciting and dramatic story about space travel with interdisciplinary lesson plans that are aligned with national standards. This curriculum guide begins with two lessons that may be useful for social studies classes. Lesson 1 gives students insight into how humans have perceived Mars for centuries, how writers have speculated about the Red Planet’s nature, and how space travel and exploration have progressed since the 1960s. The sociological concept of the “cultural iceberg” underlies Lesson 2, as students apply cultural concepts to analyze the nature of life in Olympus Town.
STEM lessons follow these social studies lessons. Lesson 3 asks students to research the hazards that astronauts on the surface of Mars will face, write mini-stories involving these hazards, and program them as computer games for classmates to try. Lesson 4 explores the idea of terraforming, the process of making a planet or moon more earthlike by modifying its atmosphere, its temperature, its topography, or its ecology so that humans can live there more readily. A more advanced lesson for classes in physics, Lesson 5, asks students to consider the amount of space needed for supplies and how those supplies can be packed without unbalancing or stressing the rotating ship. In Lesson 6, students use math and graphing to predict the future of advances in speed necessary for space travel as they contemplate the sheer vastness of the solar system.
English classes will find Lessons 7 and 8 useful. Lesson 7 asks students to consider the appeal that science fiction writing and film have had for generations, and it surveys some of the best-known writers who have used their imaginations to portray life on Mars and even Martians themselves. Lesson 8 asks students to join this stream of science fiction by writing their own short stories: creating a believable milieu, populating it with fictional characters, and creating a compelling conflict to be resolved.
Whether you choose one or these lessons for your class or all of these lessons in a team approach, MARS will prove to be a memorable experience


Lesson 1: Learning About Mars Through Space Exploration: Past, Present, and Future (History, Science, Social Studies)
Lesson 2: An Iceberg for the Red Planet: The Culture of Olympus Town (Social Studies)
Lesson 3: The Hazards of Mars: Programming an Interactive Story (Creative Writing, Programming, Science)
Lesson 4: Terraforming: Making Mars More Like Earth (Language Arts, Social Studies, Science)
Lesson 5: A Trip to Mars: Packing for Space Travel (Math, Physics)
Lesson 6: Are We There Yet? Distance and Speed in Space (Math, History)
Lesson 7: ‘The Martians Have Landed!’— Mars in Science Fiction (Language Arts)
Lesson 8: Writing Science Fiction (Language Arts, Creative Writing)

Authors of this curriculum guide: Ryan Chamberlain, Julie Farhm, Kate Fitzgerald,
Jamor Gaffney, Glenn Klakring, Mary Anne Kovacs, Matt Lowell, Lara McCormick.

Science Consultant
David Mattingly, Ph.D.


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