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Robotic Rovers

Clara_MaNASA’s newest robotic planetary rover blasted off in November on its mission to Mars. Scientists and engineers on Earth will control the rover’s Martian movements remotely, "driving" it  from 345 million (345,000,000) miles away. In the Out of Sight activity, learners can try their hand at driving remote-controlled toy vehicles in a “blind” test, from a location where they cannot see the vehicle or the course it’s following.

Among the awestruck watchers at the Mars mission liftoff was Clara Ma, whose winning essay (written when she was in 6th grade) gave the Mars rover its name, “Curiosity.” Learners can read Ma’s essay and write their own, about a name they think would be just right for a future planetary rover.

Ma wrote: “Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do the stars twinkle?', 'Why am I me?', and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder. Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.”


Deborah Lee Rose's picture

One of the greatest challenges of the newest Mars mission is landing the Curiosity rover safely on the planet. Watch a detailed animation of the rover's planned landing (, then try the SMILE activity Egg-cellent Landing ( In this activity, learners recreate the classic egg-drop experiment with an analogy to the Mars rover landing. The activity introduces the concept of terminal velocity, and learners perform several velocity calculations as well as design and build their lander within a pre-determined budget.