Teacher's Edition

a picture of a Mars sunrise

Table of Contents

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Using This Web Site

This web site is structured so that the informal learner as well as a formal student in grades 5 through 12 can enjoy the concepts, skills and processes involved in designing an airplane to fly on Mars. The user is given the design specifications for a Mars airplane that will fly through the atmosphere of Mars collecting scientific data about the planet's geology, atmosphere, hydrology and geography. The user gathers the pertinent information needed to design such an airplane from the web site: text materials, animations, graphics, web chats (live and archived), on-line Q & A and links to other sites. The user designs an airplane by choosing from a series of parts: fuselage, tail section, propulsion system, wings. The program then assembles these parts into a Mars airplane, and provides the learner with an evaluation of the design's flight characteristics. There is not one best design, but there are some designs that will be better suited than others to not only successfully fly, but also be able to perform the scientific tests required. Regardless of the depth to which the user decides to delve into the information found on this web site, much can be learned about aeronautics as well as the planet Mars.

Teachers can make use of this web site in different ways. It can be used as:

It can be used by one's students in a minimal way: students simply survey the site, examining only what interests them, moving on to the interactive segment where they can select from a variety of aircraft parts to assemble a Mars airplane.

To maximize the potential for this web site, teachers are encouraged to use the Problem-based Learning (PBL) approach found within the instructional print materials. All the information needed by the students to solve the problem: answers to the essential questions, aeronautical science, atmospheric implications on flight, aeronautical design concepts, to name a few, are found on the web site.

The print material is structured so that it provides the teacher with the following:

The Team at NASA Quest hope you, the classroom teacher, find this web site and its Problem-based Learning (PBL) instructional component to be a valuable asset to your classroom instruction.

Problem-based Learning in Brief

Problem-based Learning (PBL) is an instructional methodology that uses a carefully designed, open-ended problem to prompt students into a "real world" type investigation. Through immersion into such a problem, students experience the following:

This problem, "Designing a Mars Airplane", is designed so that students will meet learning objectives while covering science content. The material correlates to the National Standards for Science, Technology, Mathematics and Reading/Language Arts. (A delineation of these is found in the Appendices of the print material, "Correlation to the National Standards".) As students grapple with the problem: the critical knowledge questions that need to be answered, the aeronautical science knowledge that needs to be understood and applied, the atmospheric conditions which affect flight, and aeronautical design concepts; they work toward becoming better prepared to work in a rapidly changing global marketplace.

The Scenario and the Problem

In order to gather more and greater amounts of information about Mars, its geology, geography, possible hydrology, and atmosphere, scientists wish to fly an autonomous (robot-controlled) aircraft with a scientific instrument payload above the surface of Mars for as long as aerodynamically possible. This aircraft must fit into the spacecraft which will carry it to Mars. It is contained in a protective shell during the atmospheric entry and deploys from that shell after reaching desired speed and altitude, which may be either subsonic or supersonic. Its cargo space will only be allowed to hold 5 kg of scientific instrumentation which will gather the scientific data on Mars' atmosphere, geology, and geography.

Note: Although in actuality, for such an aircraft to fit into its designated container for stowage during space flight, its wings must be folded in its packaging. Upon deployment within Mars' upper atmosphere, its wings would then be required to unfold as it makes its transitions to level flight.. This however will not be the crux of this problem. The main problem on which to concentrate will be that of how flight can be achieved in an atmosphere such as Mars.

It is imperative that this aircraft be capable of flight within the atmosphere of Mars. Such flight is different from the atmospheric flight conditions that prevail here on Earth. The many differences between the two atmospheres will have major impacts on flight characteristics of any standard Earth-bound aircraft if it attempts a flight on Mars.

Before students can successfully engage in the complex concepts involved in such a flight they must have a solid understanding of the basic principles of atmospheric flight. The readings and Web references provided at this site are intended to offer students the information needed to solve the design problem. If additional basic aeronautical information is needed as a review, then it is recommended that your students be engaged with the educational CD-ROM Exploring Aeronautics available through NASA CORE at 216-774-1051 or fax 216-774-2144.

(Anticipated) Student Outcomes

These are the skills, concepts and processes that are intended to spring out of this Problem-based Learning experience. We have identified only the science concepts for the anticipated learning outcomes. The assessment section will assist you in identifying the processes that the students will utilize during the exploration.

Students will:

PBL and Mars Airplane Overview

The Problem-Based Learning process for this Mars Airplane Design will follow the steps delineated below. Use the guidesheets found in the Portable Document File (PDF) Student Handouts, Learning Activities and Student Assessments to assist in this PBL process.

1. Introduce the problem to your students (Student Handout #1: Call for Proposals).

2. Define the situation and the roles the students are to play.

3. Have the students (individually, small groups, whole class) define the problem statement in their own words and phrase it as a question. (Student Handout #3: Defining the Problem)

4. Based upon their experience and prior knowledge, have the students (individually, small groups, whole class) list what knowledge they already have that would help them solve the problem. (Student Handout #4: Processing Through the Problem)

5. Next, have the students list in the form of a question what knowledge they need to acquire in order to solve this problem. This list becomes what is known as the "Essential Questions" that must be answered in order to be successful in this design process. Note: A list of anticipated essential questions is provided for the teacher to use as a quick reference and potential guidance for the teacher to use with the students.

6. For each essential question given, the students need to determine how each question will be answered ("How can we find out about it?"). This becomes the basis for developing their Research Action Plan. (Student Handout #5: Research Action Plan)

7. To assist you, the teacher, in ensuring that certain skills, concepts and processes are acquired a list of anticipated student outcomes has been provided.

8. The students use the information found on the web site as well as other noted resources to implement their Research Action Plan.

9. Also available, a series of instructional activities designed to assist students in exploring and acquiring the knowledge and understandings needed for successful completion of this project. These are optional and should be employed only if needed during the learning process. These are found in the PDF (Portable Document File) of the Instructional Activities section.

10. For your convenience there are a series of assessments designed to ascertain whether the students are truly acquiring the skills, concepts and processes needed to successfully design an airplane that will fly on Mars. Included are quizzes for evaluating the students' acquisition of the technology design process, and aeronautical and atmospheric concepts. A rubric is also available for the evaluation of their final written report and their oral presentation. These are to be found in the PDF section Student Assessments.

11. Included also in the PDF section is a Learning/Reading Center set of materials to be used in conjunction with the tradebook Are We Moving to Mars? by Anne Schraff.

Implementing the Problem-based Learning Approach

Step 1: Introducing the Problem

Have students meet the problem by accessing the following web sites or accessing printouts from the following web sites, and reading about the NASA announcement for a Mars aircraft to be flown in 2003.

ABC News URL: http:// www.abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000science/marsplane980720.html

Wired News URL: http:// www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,14708.00.html

Then distribute, read and discuss Student Handout #1: The Call for Proposals.

Step 2: The Scenario and Student Roles

Students will act as aeronautical researchers and aeronautical engineers throughout this scenario. They will need to research the basics of Earth-bound aeronautics and then see how these aeronautical principles apply in the atmosphere of Mars. Knowing how these principles act differently within the Mars atmosphere, will affect ultimately the design of the aircraft. They will then take the role of an aeronautical engineer and examine the different types of aircraft parts and how these are predicted to function within the atmosphere of Mars. They will make design decisions based upon these predictions.

Student Handout #2: Mars Airplane Design Specifications

Step 3: Crafting the Problem Statement

Based upon the students' work with Student Handout #1: The Call for Proposals and the web site references, they collaborate to derive a detailed definition of the problem. Use the Student Handout #3: Defining the Problem: The Problem Statement, and have students work in small teams or as a whole class to come up with this problem statement. Below are examples of what some these problem statements could be.


What kind of aircraft design will meet the required aeronautical and scientific specifications for successful flight on Mars?

Given the type of atmosphere that is found on Mars, what type of airplane design will be able to fly and take as payload the required scientific equipment for study of Mars?

What kind of wing shape, fuselage shape and size, tail section shape and propulsion system will give the maximum flight characteristics necessary for a flight on Mars that will accomplish the scientific missions required?

What's the best kind of wing, fuselage, tail and propulsion system for an aircraft to use to fly in Mars' atmosphere with a scientific payload?

For an aircraft to fly in Mars' atmosphere with a full scientific payload, what is the best wing shape, fuselage shape, tail shape and propulsion system?

Step 4: Developing Their Essential Questions

Use Student Handout #4: Processing Through the Problem to assist them as they work in their teams to delineated the important information they need to know in order to successfully solve the design problem. Below are lists of Essential Questions that are anticipated to be generated by the students.

Mars Atmospheric Questions

Aeronautical Design Questions

Aeronautical Questions

Step 5: Performing Research and Instructional Activities

As students use the web site to find the answers to their Essential Questions, the following activities can be interspersed among their research when and where applicable. The following instructional materials do not necessarily have to be used in order for the students to gain the full benefit of this Problem-based Learning unit. They can be used to assist in illustrating aspects of aeronautical knowledge.

Activity 1: The Aspect Ratio of Wings Students learn how the length and width of a wing can affect the amount of lift it generates.

Activity 2: Graphing the Four Forces Students acquire a simplified version of how the forces of weight, lift, thrust and drag can be graphed.

Activity 3: Don't Let it Weigh You Down! Students are introduced to the importance of lift versus weight in determining payload for lighter-than-air aircraft.

Activity 4: Know All the Angles Students work with simulated wind tunnel data to determine the coefficient of lift.

Activity 5: Expressing Rules for Atmospheric Pressure This contains a few mathematical problems that ask the 9 - 12 grade students to write exponential equations regarding atmospheric pressure at different altitudes.

Step 6: Design and Refine the Prototype

Once students have adequately researched their essential questions and the teacher believes the students are able to reflect intelligently upon their information it is time to allow the students to actually choose prototype designs. They do so by accessing the web site's section: "Design a Mars Airplane". Here students mix and match various airplane parts and structures to design a prototype. If their research has been performed thoroughly, the students should be able to eliminate the more obvious prototype designs that could not achieve successful flight on Mars. Do not allow the students to test their ideas at this time. They are to first review the selections available and discuss the remaining possibilities within their group.

After said process of elimination, the students will next need to decide which of the remaining features when combined would provide one of the more successful prototypes that meets the design specifications. Before proceeding they must complete Student Handout #7: Designing a Prototype of the Mars Airplane.

Once Student Handout #7 is complete, students should be allowed to proceed to test their prototype by using the web site section: Design a Mars Airplane. During this time the teacher decides how many iterations the students should be allowed before the teacher calls the scientific conference. Students are then given time to prepare their written proposal and their oral presentation of said proposal.

Step 7: Presentation of Proposals

Acting as a scientific community, students present their written reports summarizing the knowledge they acquired and the prototype their research produced. They must defend their work in front of their colleagues.

Any disagreements can be quelled by returning to the web site section Design a Mars Airplane to ascertain any other possibilities. The teacher can also use the experts' explanations found in the Appendices to assist in substantiating any claims.

Student Assessment

You will find in the PDF file Student Assessment an array of assessments that can be utilized within the context of the Problem-based Learning format. The assessments vary from concept quizzes to processes checks to rubrics. No need to use them all. Simply pick and choose those which will be most applicable to how you will use these materials within your program.

Below is a brief description of each. These can be printed from the PDF file Student Assessment.


Additional Resources

Teacher Print Material

How to Use Problem-based Learning in the Classroom, Delisle, Robert. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA, 1997. ISBN: 0-87120-291-3.

Mach 1 and Beyond, Reithmaier, Larry. Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1995. ISBN: 0-07-052021-6.

Future Flight: The Next Generation of Aircraft Technology, Siuru, B. & Busick J. D. Tab Aero Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1994. ISBN:0-8306-4376-1.

The Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics, Smith, H. C. Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1992. ISBN: 0-8306-3901-2

"Mars Air: How to build the first extraterrestrial airplane" Morton, Oliver. Air and Space ,. December 1999/January 2000, pp. 34-42

"Designing a 'smart wing' for the Mars airplane", Kenwright, D. Gridpoints, Winter 1999, pp. 8-11.

Teacher Web Sites

The Mars Airplane-NASA Langley Research Center http://marsairplane.larc.nasa.gov

Celebrating the Human Spirit of Invention and Innovation with details about the Mars Landscape, History, and Future explorations (req. FLASH Plugin).

Ames Imaging Library Server-Digital Library http://ails.arc.nasa.gov

AME-2 Mars Airplane starting the development sequence; Photographer: Tom Trower; Date: Nov 20, 1996

Power and On-Board Propulsion Technology Division http://powerweb.lerc.nasa.gov

Home Projects Power Technologies Propulsion Technologies Research Technology Transfer Publications Feedback Organization Search;

Deep Space 2 Picture Gallery http://nmp.jpl.nasa.gov Presents a synopsis of a scientific Mars mission during which the Mars microphobes will collect data to determine the atmospheric density profile, the hardness and thermal conductivity of the soil, and if water ice is present below the Martian surface.

General technical information concerning the technical specifications about the Mars airplane.

Taking Wing over Mars
News article detailing the mission proposed to coincide with the Kitty Hawk Centennial.

A Flight Plan for Mars
News article detailing the general and background information about the Mars Airplane.

Correlation to the National Standards

PDF Files

Student Handouts

Student Assessments

Instructional Activities

Mars Learning/Reading Center

Planetary Flight Home Page