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The Path To MarsThe-Path-To-Mars

  • Subject: Space Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. It has been discovered that Mars and Earth have several similar geological features.
2. These features may be useful for supporting life on both planets.


For this lesson, you will need:
Current research materials on Mars
Books containing geological photographs of the surface of Mars and Earth
Computer with Internet access


1. Tell students that they are going to compare Earth and Mars to find similarities between the two planets. Have them begin by doing research to find information and collect pictures of geological features of both planets. They should start their research at the following Web sites:
  • Views of the Solar System: Mars Introduction
  • Views of the Solar System: Earth Introduction
2. Instruct students to download and print pictures of geological features and formations on Earth and Mars. They can also find pictures in text references and photocopy them.
3. Have students post pairs of pictures of Earth and Mars side-by-side on a bulletin board in order to compare similar geological features and formations shared by both planets.
4. For each pair of pictures, students should identify the planet in each picture and write short descriptions of the geological features being compared. Students should do further research to include in their descriptions explanations of how the feature was probably formed and of how the feature may be useful for supporting life on both planets.

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Download pictures for the students and guide them in finding geological similarities.

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Discussion Questions

1. What geological evidence have scientists found on Mars that suggests that this planet once had, and may still have, large quantities of water?
2. Although scientists no longer believe that a Martian civilization lives on Mars, a recent discovery suggests that some form of life may have once inhabited the Red Planet. Describe the consequences for Earth, if life once existed on Mars. Debate the presence of life in other parts of the universe.
3. How would human beings on Earth benefit if it were possible to create a space colony on Mars in which humans could live?
4. Discuss whether our government should spend money to fund further exploration of Mars, or use that money to improve conditions here on Earth? Or should funds be made available for both purposes?

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You can evaluate your students on their descriptions using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:clearly and completely describes the geological feature being compared; includes plausible explanation of how the feature was probably formed; includes clear, accurate explanation of how the feature may be useful in supporting life; free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Two points:adequately describes the geological feature being compared; includes acceptable explanation of how the feature was probably formed; includes acceptable explanation of how the feature may be useful in supporting life; includes some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
One point:vague description of the geological feature being compared; implausible explanation of how the feature was probably formed; unclear explanation of how the feature may be useful in supporting life; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

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Preparing a Meal for Space Flight
Let students know that in order to preserve food and reduce cargo weight on a space trip, food is dehydrated. This means that water is removed from the food. Mostly for reasons of preservation, some food is dehydrated for consumption here on Earth. Have students make a list of all the dehydrated foods (sometimes referred to as “freeze dried”) that they can find in the supermarket and from that list prepare a meal that might be enjoyed by astronauts out in space. In some cases, students may want to rehydrate the food to make it tasty and more consumable. Here is a sample menu:
  1. Dehydrated fruit such as bananas and strawberries: rehydrate in mouth by saliva
  2. Dehydrated peanuts: rehydration not necessary
  3. Dehydrated orange crystals: rehydrate with water in a sandwich bag, and use a straw to sip out the contents
  4. Dehydrated instant pudding: rehydrate with water in a sandwich bag, snip off a corner of the bag with scissors, and slurp out the contents
  5. Dehydrated beef jerky: rehydrate in mouth
  6. Dehydrated ice cream: follow package instructions to rehydrate
After feasting on their space meal, students can rate their experience with each food and comment on whether they would look forward to thecuisineon a lengthy space flight.

Construct a Shuttle
Have students use tape, Velcro, glue, shoe boxes, paper towel tubes, plastic soda cans, and other household recyclables to construct a model of the space shuttle. Instruct students to glue or tape together the parts that never separate and to use Velcro to hold together parts that will be jettisoned after liftoff (e.g., the fuel tank and rocket boosters).

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Suggested Readings

The Solar System; Facts and Exploration
Gregory L. Vogt. New York: Twenty-First Century Books, 1995
Visit Mars and all the planets in the solar system; learn about the different types of electronic photos that are taken from space; compare planetary data and successful interplanetary spacecraft; get the names and addresses of space organizations to write to for more information.

The Red Planet: Mars
Isaac Asimov, with revisions and updating by Francis Reddy. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1994
Would you be willing to travel to Mars and try to live there? Read about the planet before you make a decision!

The U.S. Space Camp Book of Rockets
Anne Baird. Photographs by David Graham. Foreword by Dr. Buzz Aldrin. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1994
Join Space Camp trainees in Rocket Park and Space Museum in Huntsville, Alabama and learn the history of rockets, see famous rockets, and climb aboard a space shuttle and a space station.

Floating Home
David Getz. Illustrated by Michael Rex. New York: Holt, 1997
Eight-year-old Maxine has to do an art project and imagines herself braving a takeoff and “traveling” on a space shuttle to look at Earth from far above it.

Making and Enjoying Telescopes: Six Complete Projects and a Stargazer’s Guide
Robert Miller. New York: Sterling Publ. Co., 1995
Learn how to make a telescope and check out the stars from your own backyard!

Adventure in Space: The Flight to Fix the Hubble
Elaine Scott and Margaret Miller. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 1995
Will the astronauts be able to fix the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope? Read and find out about the Hubble Space Telescope in this exciting book.

Living in Space
Larry Kettelkam. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1993
Read about people who’ve lived in space and about space suits, space stations, and plans to send people to Mars and, some day, to other planets in other solar systems. Do you want to be one of these travelers?

The 21st Century in Space
Isaac Asimov and Robert Giraud. With revisions and updating by Greg Walz-Chojnacki. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1996
See and read about huge telescopes, airplanes in space, landing on Mars, and a probe to the sun . Check out the pages where the authors say what we’ll be doing in space between now and the year 2016, as well as in 20,000 years, 40,000 years and even in 296,000 years!

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Searching for Evidence of Water on Mars [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Amazing Space

Amazing Space is a set of web-based activities primarily designed for classroom use, but made available for all to enjoy. In one of many activities follow the history of the telescope from Galileo's invention to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

Living in Space Lesson
This NASA page is filled with hands-on K-8 lesson plans that will involve your students in learning how to survive in space.

Space Educators’ Handbook Home Page
Find great lesson plans relating to space travel and astronomy, many of which are interactive sites on the Web. Download Space Coloring books, spinoffs, references and so much more.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    microorganism
Definition:A microscopic (very small) plant or animal.
Context:The presence of microorganisms found in meteorites, believed to have originated from Mars, suggests that life once existed on that planet.

speaker    centrifugal force
Definition:An outward force caused by a body pushing or pulling on a structure that is causing the body to experience a rotational motion.
Context:An astronaut will push outwards with a centrifugal force on a rotating, donut-shaped space station, and sense the illusion of weight in the direction of this force. The faster the space station rotates, the heavier the astronaut will feel.

speaker    terraforming
Definition:To use the greenhouse effect to increase the density of a planet’s atmosphere by releasing carbon dioxide (and other gases) trapped in the planet’s rocks.
Context:In order to provide a replenishing food source, astronauts will use terraforming to release carbon dioxide from Martian rocks needed for plants to grow.

speaker    astronomy
Definition:The study of objects and processes beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
Context:He took up astronomy as a hobby.

speaker    microgravity
Definition:A condition of real or apparent reduced gravity experienced on orbiting space vehicles.
Context:Orbiting astronauts experience microgravity conditions partly because they are farther away from the Earth, and mostly because they are in a state of freefall as they orbit the Earth.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:3-5
Subject area:technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology, and society.
Knows that people have always had questions about their world; science is one way of answering questions and explaining the natural world.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows that technology and science are reciprocal (e.g., technology drives science, as it provides the means to access outer space and remote locations, collect and treat samples, collect, measure, store, and compute data, and communicate information; science drives technology, as it provides principles for better instrumentation and techniques, and the means to address questions that demand more sophisticated instruments).

Grade level:3-5
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of technological design.
Categorizes items into groups of natural objects and designed objects.

Grade level:3-5
Subject area:technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology, and society.
Knows that tools help scientists make better observations, measurements, and equipment for investigations.

Grade level:3-5
Subject area:technology
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that women and men of all ages, backgrounds, and groups participate in the various areas of science and technology, as they have for many centuries.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe and the Earth’s place in it.
Knows characteristics and movement patterns of the nine planets in our solar system (e.g., planets differ in size, composition, and surface features; planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits; some planets have moons, rings of particles, and other satellites orbiting them).

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Ted Latham, physics teacher, Watchung Hills Regional High School, Warren, New Jersey.

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