Exploring the Solar System – Past, Present, and Future Missions

Image Source: NASA
Image Source: NASA

After taking an in-depth look at missions to Mars (blog entry) and learning more about the planets in the solar system (blog entry), we learned about past, present, and future unmanned space missions and their mission objectives.


  • Desktops/Laptops and Internet Access
  • JPL Missions Website (link)
  • Mission Assignments using Google Sheets Template (public link)
  • Mission Information using Google Slides Presentation Template (public link)
  • Sample slides from one of my 6th grade groups (pdf)

Each group of students created a shared Google Slides Presentation, and within each group, students were assigned 4-6 numbered slides with specific missions (public link). This was a great way for the students to learn about different missions, practice their research, tech, and collaboration skills, and to get a better understanding of the history of unmanned space missions.

When students were done with their slides, the next class involved a fun game of “Name that Mission” (girls vs boys). Using slides that the students created, I pulled a total of 20 or so slides from different groups and classes and added animations to them. If they could name the mission without clues (just an image of the spacecraft) they earned 2 points, if they named the mission with clues, they earned 1 point.

Below is a video about DAWN – the mission will be arriving at Ceres this week (March 6th) narrated by Leonard Nimoy. LLAP.

Missions to Mars

After our Moon unit, with a focus on the Apollo Missions, we are now looking at Mars. We have talked about the Orion Spacecraft (link) and how we want to return to the moon and eventually travel to an asteroid or Mars (link).

I posed the question: What are some of the different ways we can get information from Mars if people haven’t been there yet? We then discussed the differences between a flyby (paparazzi photographers), orbiters (satellites), landers (stuck in one spot), and rovers (robots that drive).

Before showing the video above, I asked the students to think about how the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and to brainstorm what the sequence of events would look like for it to get from here to there.

They came up with some really great ideas, and many of them named a few of the different steps from the sequence of events. After seeing the video, we discussed each step of the sequence and why they had to happen in that order, and where things could go wrong. About 50% of our missions to Mars (all countries) have ended in failure.

To get further background information, we looked at the history of Mars exploration. Where have we been? What do we know? What do we want to know? What worked? What didn’t work?

For this activity, I divided the class into small groups. Each group was given a time period of Mars Exploration from the 1960s to future missions. Once each group gathered information for their missions, we briefly discussed each one.


  • Laptop
  • Google Spreadsheet – (public link)
    • shared file per class: each group is assigned one tab to complete OR
    • shared file per group: each member of the group will complete one tab of information
  • NASA Mars Missions website – (link)
  • NASA JPL All Missions website – (link)

Current Mars Missions

For more lessons about Mars, see my Space Science Page.