Kids Celebrate Mars Rover by Building Their Own

It turns out that NASA scientists aren't the only ones building mock-up Mars Rovers. A program at the University of Houston has been capturing the attention of elementary and middle school students for several years. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports that it is time to start thinking about the next Mars Rover Celebration.

It's been an annual event since 2002 and begins with students researching Mars and coming up with a question about Mars that would require a surface mission.

"Then they are supposed to devise a design of a Mars Rover to investigate their question."

Dr. Edgar Bering is a professor of Physics and Computer Engineering at the University of Houston and the Mars Rover Celebration is an educational outreach program at the UH. The whole process takes about six weeks. The curriculum has been developed by Dr. Bering and teachers who have taken part in the project. He says it's designed for students from 3rd to 8th grade and that the research questions they come up with are often the same big questions that scientists are asking.

"The typical questions focus on, ‘where is there water?' or ‘can we find life?' which are the hot questions for everybody involved in Mars science. But there have been some other interesting ones, one young lady, whose father I guess is a real estate developer, came up with ‘what's a good spot for a shopping mall?'"

Then they design a Mars Rover to investigate their question.

"To sort of top it off they're asked to build a model of their design, made with stuff, art supplies and trash."

There's a written report and they perform a skit for their class. Then on January 26th they'll all gather at the U of H and the work is judged on various criteria and levels. Dr. Bering says scientist from NASA will be there to help with the judging and also to engage the students about what they've done.

"We've actually seen theses guys sitting there, they're talking to the kids about the Rover and all of a sudden one of them will whip out their PDA and start taking notes. These guys are smart, these kids and some of their ideas are absolutely fascinating."

This is not just for school classes, Scouts, home school groups, any group can take part, and it's not expensive, there's a $25 limit on what can be spent on building the Rover. You can enroll on line and there's a link at kuhf.org to the Mars Rover Celebration web site.

"That web site was actually engineered by a 15 year old, so 15 year olds know perfectly what to do when they encounter the web site it's just a picture of a Mars Rover. There no place to click, well you click on the Mars Rover. This defeats teachers but kids understand it immediately."

Just keep clicking until you come to the entry form. The deadline is sometime in November, but Dr. Bering says it always gets extended and he really doesn't need the final product until the first of the year.

Bio photo of Rod Rice

Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...