The NASA Countdown Club draws from free educational resources developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (established in 1958). On this site you will find selected videos, background information, and links that support the featured theme of our monthly Midnight Science Club Meetings. Our October meeting highlighted how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are used in selected Mars and Moon missions.
(This website is not affiliated with NASA.)
Could there be life on Mars?
Scientists think that the presence of water on other worlds may be the key to finding life beyond Earth.
Video 1: Curiosity Lands on Mars
Video 2: NASA Announces Presence of Water on Mars
Missions to Mars: The Search for Signs of Life — Past and Present
Scientists will continue to work to identify where the conditions might be right for life on Mars. NASA has successfully conducted both orbital and lander missions to the Red Planet. The first successful missions, Mariner 4, 6, 7, and 9, launched over the course of the 1960s and early 1970s, were the first spacecraft to acquire and return close range images of Mars.
In the 1960s, a group of NASA scientists, engineers, and technicians designed an ambitious robotic mission to Mars, named Viking. The Viking mission was composed of four spacecraft (two orbiters and two landers) whose principal objective was to look for evidence of life. The landers dug soil samples from the frozen surface and looked for signs of respiration –– an indication of biological activity. Although the initial results were thought promising, Viking found no conclusive signs of life. However, it is important to note that these experiments were not very sensitive by modern standards.
Following the successes — and disappointments (no confirmed life) — of the Viking mission, NASA’s Mars Exploration program sent a series of missions to explore the surface features and history of Mars as well as its geology and water, but these missions did not search for signs of life.
The Mars Exploration Rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, landed on the Red Planet in January 2004 as a part of three-month missions to look for signs of past water activity on Mars. Both rovers far exceeded their mission goals and expectations, making important discoveries about wet environments on Mars in the past and possibly at the present.
The latest mission to Mars, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is looking for the precursors (building blocks) of life and evidence of past habitable environments. MSL’s Curiosity rover is studying rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars in order to assess what the martian environment was like in the past.
The “T” in STEM
Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics. It’s no secret that NASA has a workforce built on STEM careers. There is a lot of discussion about the importance of STEM careers and how critical it is to the U.S. that more students get their degrees in a STEM field. But before we can have students pursuing STEM fields, we need to have engaging and excited educators to teach these students. NASA knows the importance of education and mentoring, and the agency is a strong proponent of supporting STEM educators
What tools have been used to explore Mars? NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched August 12, 2005, is on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars’ history, it remains a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.
How hard is it to land a 1 ton rover on Mars?
It is exciting to see that engineering has become a recognized discipline in K-12 education. For years, very little was said about engineering in K-12 schools. Engineering was rarely mentioned in the K-12 curriculum until about eight or nine years ago. Prior to then, very few school teachers and administrators knew about engineering as it was not the focus of the time. Yet, as times have changed and the demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum to be integrated into K-12 has become more relevant, the demand for engineering has increased.
Drag and lift are also Engineering considerations here on Earth, especially for race car drivers.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter celebrates 100 Lunar Days around the Moon on October 16th.