Last week, we returned to the Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs to take part in their Mars Rover simulation! Yes, we were very fortunate to be one of the first classrooms to participate in this activity. So exciting!
When we arrived, Team Baldwin and Team Weissman (another awesome class from Anastasis) met in the simulation lab and learned about the history of the different rovers sent to Mars. The Discovery Center team talked to us about each rover, its capabilities, and what they have learned about Mars so far. The most recent rover sent to Mars is called Curiosity. We love that name! The lab looks a lot like the terrain on Mars! We looked at what they had created and then thought about which items might actually be on Mars versus those that look man-made.
Some of us were really surprised when it came time to “drive” the mini Mars rovers. We had assumed that we would use controllers like we have at home for Wii or Xbox. Instead, each station had its own laptop. The Discovery Center team divided us all into groups of 3 and then gave each student a role: Commander, Pilot, and Data Engineer. The Commanders decided which “moves” to execute. The Pilots used the program on the laptop to execute the moves, and then the Data Engineer recorded all the energy levels based on multiple factors for each move to make sure that we didn’t run out of battery before getting to our destination. Each student in the group took turns in all three roles. Lots of math, trial and error, and problem-solving!
We had a great time learning about the rovers! One of the things we learned was that when one of our mini rovers got stuck, the team could walk into the simulation and help us out. If that happens to Curiosity, no one can just take a quick trip to Mars to fix it. If Curiosity gets stuck, it’s a billion dollar mistake. Now we know why the commanders, pilots, and data engineers for NASA have to move very slowly and really think about each move that Curiosity takes.