You can prepare materials and spaces for the rover construction by using cardboard, scissors, cutters, glue, adhesive tape, water paint, brushes and logo of your favourite space agency.
The carton must be open at the top and the bottom, and have two openings on the sides to pass the arm through, or else you can make suspenders with twine.
Step 1: test on the Earth.
We test the system of communication between rover and control centre in a very limited area (for example a classroom or just a room). We distribute a few obstacles with some water-earth memory card, face-down, nearby Mission Control, properly defined.
We spread hurdles over the whole play area, conveniently far from Mission Control, and several water-earth memory cards, face-down.
The goal of the game is finding water on Mars. Children will be able to choose among three types of roles: mission control, rover and messengers, which will be identified by cards. Mission control and the rover will have to help each other, through messages with which mission control will give instructions to the rover. The rover will provide mission control information about the features of the place in which it is, in order to reach the final goal.
Communication takes place through messengers, who will have to shuttle from one to the other, moving quickly to carry messages. The rover will move on the martian ground and will check the presence of acqua (turning the memory cards appropriately distribuited) time and again on instruction of the mission control when it reaches the cards.
Step 2. Duration: 20 minutes
We explain the mission to the team: moving the rover in the martian ground, searching for water, and inviting children to agree on the communications which will be exchanged between rover and control centre.
At this stage, we want to make pupils think about a peculiar feature in space missions – namely the importance of planning on Earth, because once we launch the probe, it won’t be possible to intervene in case of failure or malfunction.
We explain that in real missions, a test on Earth is always made, thus highlighling that, with this activity, we retrace correctly the operations carried out by scientists.
Before sending the rover on Mars, we propose a trial run on the Earth: the control centre will have to send out some messages to the rover, not far from them poco, always mediated by the messenger. This stage simulates the exchange of signals on Earth, where ther message arrives very quickly, and the control centre can see the effects of the instructions in real time, therefore the chance to make corrections.
Instructions will in any case be communicated through the messenger, so as to highlight the fact that the mode of signal transmission is the same.
With reference to this a stage, we can tell of the Soviet Rover in Chernobyl (see the section “Further Reading”).
At first, students are asked to define the rules of communication between the control centre and the martian rover, giving priority, for example, to the safty of the probe.
Step 3. Duration: 10 minutes
The rover is brought on Mars’ ground (the area far from Mission Control) together with at least one messanger. We give the rover the instruction to signal its landing and its good condition to mission control.
Then the rover writes its first message to mission control and sends it through the messenger, adding any detail that it deems appropriate.
Step 4. Duration: 30 minutes
At this point, mission control should tell the rover how to move, according to the information received by the rover itself. Ample freedom is given to participants as to the information which should be sent in the messages and the path to follow.
Pupils will be encouraged to analyze the situation in a collaborative perspective among “control centre” group, “rover” group and “messenger” group, so ad to reach the final goal in the shortest possible time.
If the rover signals that it is approaching a point apparently suitable for searching water (“water-rock “ memory card), mission control can give the instruction to pursue the search (turn the card over).
If the rover hits an obstacle, you must exchange two outward messages and two return messages before you can start again, simulate the time necessary to understand any damages to the rover.
The mission is successful when water is found.
If after the time is elapsed and no water has been found, the game is stopped.
Step 5: 40 minutes
The teacher analyzes, together with the pupils, criticality and strengths of the various phases of the game, and of the different working groups, possibly suggesting a more effective way of proceeding with operations. Children are asked to think about the complications which may arise, with reference to Step 1 too, when the rover was still on the Earth. (See “Supplementary material”)
A new “manche” is therefore proposed in order to ascertain that the communication problems among the various groups have been overcome (repeat steps 2 and 3) with a shorter run time. In this new manche roles can be changed, or else can remain the same.