NASA's 'Mission To Mars' student challenge celebrates upcoming Perseverance rover landing

NASA's "Mission to Mars" challenge offers guided educational activities for students to celebrate the upcoming landing of the agency's Perseverance rover on the Red Planet. 

The agency's Mars 2020 mission launched on July 30, 2020 and is scheduled to land inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. The Perseverance rover will then search for signs of past microbial life and possible habitable environments, as well as collect samples that can be returned to Earth by a future mission campaign. 

The Mission to Mars student challenge is designed to get students engaged in the Perseverance landing and answer questions about the Mars 2020 mission. Participants receive a new lesson plan every week with a different theme and set of activities to complete, ranging from building their own Mars mission to planning for launch, arrival and surface operations. 

In photos: NASA's Mars Perseverance rover mission to the Red Planet

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The student challenge spans five weeks leading up to Perseverance's landing on Mars. The challenge kicked off on Jan. 11 with an introduction from NASA engineers, and will culminate with students designing a mission plan for entry, descent and landing during the week of Feb. 15. A new set of lessons and activities are included in each week's assignment, but can be completed in any order. 

"We want to reach every classroom in America and beyond with the Mission to Mars Student Challenge. We want to share ... not just the thrills of the Mars 2020 Perseverance landing itself, but also of what goes into making achievements like these possible," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "We hope that students will be inspired by the Perseverance mission and one day become our next generation of NASA scientists and engineers."

The weekly challenges include a variety of educational videos and activities for K-12 students, aligning with Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Some of the DIY project tutorials include instructions to make a crater using household baking ingredients, a rubber-band-powered rover, and a paper-cup spacecraft that can zip down a line and "land" on a target — simulating the precise entry, descent and landing Perseverance is tasked with on Feb. 18. 

NASA's "Mission to Mars" challenge offers guided educational activities for students to celebrate the upcoming landing of the agency's Perseverance rover on the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA)

How to participate

Educators and families can register students in NASA's Mission to Mars challenge. You can register online to join the challenge any time between Jan. 8 and Feb. 18 — when Perseverance is slated to touchdown on the Red Planet. Registration is free and allows students to submit questions for NASA experts to answer during the live stream each week. When you register, you will also receive a weekly email newsletter with tips and resources related to the mission phase of the week.However, registration is not required to access the challenge activities and lessons, or watch the live streams. 

On Feb. 18, NASA will host a landing day live stream for all students, during which NASA engineers and educational experts will answer students' questions about the Perseverance rover and discuss what to expect as the spacecraft makes its descent to the surface of Mars. NASA will also host "Countdown to Landing" live stream events on Feb. 16 and Feb. 17 for students in different age groups. 

"The Mission to Mars Student Challenge provides a fun and engaging way for students everywhere to get excited and learn about this momentous landing on Mars and join NASA as we land on the Red Planet," Ota Lutz, who leads the STEM Elementary and Secondary Education Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in the statement. 

"The challenge will feature fun and engaging activities for younger and older students who will have an opportunity to ask questions of NASA experts and have their work shared with a worldwide audience," Lutz added.

In addition to the educational live stream events, you can also watch a live broadcast of the Perseverance rover landing on NASA Television and the agency's website beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT) on Feb. 18. The spacecraft is expected to touch down on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT).

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.