Your Child Can Be a Martian at JPL’s Mars Exploration Website

Geek Culture Internet

The successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory a.k.a. the Curiosity Rover has created a wave of interest for the Red Planet among my kids. We had previously shown our kids the Seven Minutes of Terror video put out by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to explain why this landing on Mars was the greatest technical achievement in robotic space flight history. So they watched in awe as every stage went without a hitch. What a wondrous moment.

Yet for me, the catch in my throat came when I realized that somewhere on this glowing ball, protected by the thinnest coating of atmosphere, there is a child who also watched in awe this week. But for that child it will be different. For that child, their awe will propel them to excel at math and science, to know and study Mars, and one day 20 years from now their passion will lead them to be the first human to step down onto the surface of a new planet. It could be my daughter. It could be your son. If it is not one of them, then perhaps my daughter or your son will design the heat shield, parachute or next-generation rover that will allow that astronaut to take humanity to Mars. That thought made me all the more committed to supporting my kids’ natural interests in science and nature.

If your kid has taken an interest in all things Martian this week like mine have, make sure to check out the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Exploration Program. It is a fabulous place for both kids and adults to keep up on the exciting news regarding the Curiosity rover as well as explore the planet itself. There are daily updates on Curiosity’s progress. There are also links to photos and other media as well.

For kids (and adults) there are some great activities listed under the Be a Martian sub-site. First, there is a great documentary on testing the parachute used for the curiosity mission. In light of its success, it is really interesting to watch the pressures these engineers and scientists felt when they were testing designs in 2007. Also, in the Be a Martian site kids and adults can ask questions which are then answered by scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

However, my favorite activity is using the Mars Mapping Room. There kids and adults can participate in crowd sourced science by matching up high-resolution photos to their lower resolution counterparts. You can also count craters in photos to help scientists to know where to look for past life on Mars, or you can also tag photos taken by curiosity’s fore-bearers Spirit and Opportunity.

My kids and I like the idea that we, and thousands of others like us, are doing a small part to create the maps and science needed to send that child to the red planet twenty years from now. It will be an amazing day.

(If you know of other websites which kids can use to explore Mars, please add them in the comments.)

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