Mission to Mars: Planning Game (Mars Colony STEM Project)

Vivify STEM
Grade Levels
5th - 12th, Homeschool
Formats Included
  • Zip (41 pages)
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Can you keep a team of colonists alive and happy on Mars? Students work in teams to complete the ultimate project-based learning STEM experience: planning a long-term settlement on Mars! These activities can be used as a companion to the Mars Colony Project, which provides handouts to guide students to brainstorm and plan design solutions for a Mars colony. This Mission to Mars Planning Game product dives deeper into possible colony solutions, adds an interactive and game-like planning tool, teaches about real-world NASA engineering solutions, and is useful for students with limited internet access.

Click here for an editable STEM journal to use with distance learning, including digital and printable versions.

Real-world STEM Connection

Through game cards, students are introduced to real NASA technologies such as hydroponics, solar tents, MOXIE oxygen generator, and more! Students also learn about exciting current events in space exploration including the recent NASA Insight landing probe that reached the surface of Mars. As students read each game card, they debate the pros and cons of real technologies to support their own mission to Mars.

As a student-driven assignment, the purpose of the teacher is to act as a facilitator. This product is based on a 2 month long project-based design competition where students research and develop prototypes for a colony on Mars. Prototypes are built from recycled materials and presented to STEM professionals for judging. The depth of this project is dependent on the available time frame and classroom needs.

Mission to Mars Project Overview

Students create colony teams and complete the Mission to Mars: Planning Game to determine design components of a colony on Mars. Students consider various design solutions on engineering systems (food, water, power, oxygen, communication, and science labs) and mental health considerations (social, hygiene, exercise, sleeping, and entertainment). For each system, students read background cards to weigh the pros and cons while staying within budget and power constraints and maximizing human happiness. Each solution card provides details that are based on real technologies being developed by NASA. Once the solutions are determined, students create a scale-model of a Mars colony to represent location and architectural components. Below are the different systems that teams will explore:

  • Food
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Air
  • Communication
  • Science Experiments
  • Rovers
  • Eating areas
  • Hygiene
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Entertainment

Mars Colony STEM Project Includes:

  1. Detailed teachers guide with links to resources
  2. Photos of colony prototypes and layouts for inspiration
  3. Mission to Mars Planning Game boards (with instructions to print on regular 8.5 x 11 paper)
  4. Mission to Mars Game Cards with real NASA technologies
  5. Mission to Mars Student Handouts
  6. Engineering Design Process posters
  7. Rubric
  8. NASA Mission to Mars Article

Looking for more STEM lessons? Find the Vivify resource guide here: bit.ly/VivifyResourceGuide

About STEM Challenges: Click here to learn more about the 3 Stages of STEM. STEM challenges are an engaging way to incorporate the engineering design process into your classroom or after school program! These hands-on activities allow students to work in teams, apply the engineering design process, and connect science topics to real-world applications. The teacher will provide the structure to the project, but students will take an active role in designing and building their own device.

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Total Pages
41 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
3 hours
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Use proportional relationships to solve multistep ratio and percent problems. Examples: simple interest, tax, markups and markdowns, gratuities and commissions, fees, percent increase and decrease, percent error.
Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities.
Compute unit rates associated with ratios of fractions, including ratios of lengths, areas and other quantities measured in like or different units. For example, if a person walks 1/2 mile in each 1/4 hour, compute the unit rate as the complex fraction ½/¼ miles per hour, equivalently 2 miles per hour.
Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems, e.g., by reasoning about tables of equivalent ratios, tape diagrams, double number line diagrams, or equations.
Understand the concept of a unit rate 𝘢/𝘣 associated with a ratio 𝘢:𝘣 with 𝘣 ≠ 0, and use rate language in the context of a ratio relationship. For example, “This recipe has a ratio of 3 cups of flour to 4 cups of sugar, so there is 3/4 cup of flour for each cup of sugar.” “We paid $75 for 15 hamburgers, which is a rate of $5 per hamburger.”


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