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.

Earth & Mars Chart: Cut & Paste Comparison Activity

Earth & Mars Comparison Chart
Earth & Mars Comparison Chart

NASA has so may wonderful resources that you can use in your classroom. I saw this great website (link) that compared the Earth and Mars using a chart with detailed infographics. Using the information posted, I created a ppt to go along with the website and a cut-n-paste activity worksheet for their notes.


  • Earth and Mars Comparison Slides (ppt)
  • Earth and Mars Comparison Chart (pdf)
  • scissors
  • glue sticks

Each student will receive a blank Earth and Mars comparison chart. They will cut out the facts and sort them into either the Earth or Mars column, and place them next to the categories that are found in the center of the page: such as Diameter, Gravity, and Length of Day. They can work with their partner to discuss their ideas as they sort through the facts.

Once everyone was ready, we went over the answers as a class. If the student had the answer in the right position, they glued it into their notes. If it was incorrect, they placed the fact to the side for later and put the right answer into its place, and glued it on.

The next day, I asked the kids to recall facts about Mars and Earth before they opened their notes and I was happy with how much they were able to remember from doing this activity.

Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram Activity

Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram
Earth, Moon, & Mars Venn Diagram

We recently started our Mars Unit and I wanted to have a fun/active way to connect our unit on the Moon to our new unit on Mars. This activity can be used in a few different ways, I used the first lesson posted below.


  • Google Slide (Public) Earth, Mars, & Moon
    • Updated July 2016 – when I used this lesson in early 2015, it was prior to the discovery of flowing liquid water on Mars – the slides have the updated fact in the Venn Diagram
  • Updated Answer key and handouts (pdf)
  • 16 facts, printed, cut apart, and glued onto index cards (in pdf above)


Whole class activity

  1. After discussing what we know about Mars (accessing prior knowledge) and guessing how big Mars is compared to Earth (many were not really sure), I gave each student one of the sixteen facts. They were not to share their facts with the class until it was their turn to present.
  2. They may or may not know the answer to their fact, and we discussed this first. I told them I would give them clues if they needed help and not to worry too  much about getting the answer ‘wrong’.
  3. After a minute or so to think about it, I asked the person with Fact #1 to stand and read their fact to the class. The rest of class was to think about the fact and where it might go into the Venn Diagram, but not share their answers.
  4. The person with Fact #1 then had to guess where the fact fit into the Venn Diagram. Once they gave the right answer, I clicked on the ppt and the answer popped up on the screen.
  5. Everyone wrote fact #1 into their notes.
  6. Then I asked the person with Fact #2 to read their fact to the class, and so on until all 16 facts were posted.
  7. We would discuss each fact and any questions they might have.
  8. If you have more than 16 students, you can have them work with a partner and guess together.

Cooperative Groups

  1. Instead of each student having only one fact, you can have the class work in cooperative groups and give one set of the 16 facts to a group of 4 students. They will cut apart the facts (or you can give them the facts pre-cut) and one student will work on fact #’s 1-4, another #’s 5-8, third on #’s 9-12, and the 4th on #’s 13-16.
  2. The students will discuss the facts within their group and place them on top of the Venn Diagram.
  3. Once each group has had a chance to discuss their facts, you can go over the answers as a class and have each student write the facts into their notes.

Independent Seat Work, or as part of a Station/Center/Review

  1. You can also do this activity where each student will cut out all 16 facts and work independently to figure out where each fact would go in the Venn Diagram. They will then write in the facts as each answer is discussed.
  2. As a station/center activity/review, you can have a blank laminated Venn Diagram, a laminated answer key, and laminated facts. Students can guess where each fact goes into the diagram, then check their work with the answer key and write the answers into their worksheet