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.)

Science

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.



Disappearing Water

Early Mars was wetter and warmer. Images obtained by Mars orbiters have revealed that the ancient southern highlands are covered by networks of stream channels similar to gently meandering river channels on Earth. The Mars Exploration Rovers and the Curiosity rover have found structures in the rocks that are created by flowing water, and minerals formed in salty, acidic water.  Stream drainage across the southern highlands of Mars. Viking Orbiter image 606A56. Credit: NASA.

Blueberries?

 

Rover images of layers in the rocks at the Martian surface. The thin layers are interpreted to be sediment deposited by flowing water. The “blueberries” are small, BB-sized deposits of hematite. Hematite is a mineral that typically forms in water. Credit:  NASA.

Overflow Channels

Outflow channels cut by flood waters in Ares Vallis. The blocky “chunks” in the broad channel at the bottom of the image are displaced blocks of material pulled from the walls of the channel as the water rushed along. Credit:  ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

Where's the Water

Much of Mars’ water is underground, either as a liquid or as ice. Mars’ northern and southern ice caps also contain water ice, as well as carbon dioxide ice. Mars’ northern ice cap is mostly water ice.  Water and carbon dioxide ice (“dry ice”) occur in the southern polar ice cap of Mars. Credit:  NASA.

Curiosity and Beyond

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, is continuing the exploration of Mars and is specifically searching for signs that habitable environments existed on Mars in the past. Future missions include Mars 2020, a rover that will collect soil and rock samples in preparation for return to Earth by a future mission.  Scientists stand in the midst of three generations of NASA’s Mars rovers (Pathfinder’s Sojourner, MER’s Opportunity/Spirit, and MSL’s Curiosity). Curiosity is the largest and most technologically advanced rover to date. Credit:  NASA.

Technology

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.

Click on the image below to explore the MRO Video Gallery.

Engineering

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.

Mathematics

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter celebrates 100 Lunar Days around the Moon on October 16th.

Activities

InOMN Lun

Crater math: water on the Moon

Moon by numbers

InOtMN

International Observe the Moon Night is Oct 28, 2017

Teachers:  You can become certified to borrow the Lunar and Meteorite Samples for use in your classroom.

 For details click here.

NCC Archive