Our Backyard Adventures are fun and easy mini-expeditions that you can do — you guessed it! — right in your own backyard. These activities are designed to help students and parents explore the world with eyes of wonder. Along the way, you might discover new areas of interest, new dreams and potential new careers.
Your adventure should you choose to accept it is…
It’s surprising how many different ways that we can visit Mars. In this article, we talk about seeing Mars with the naked eye from your backyard, sending your name engraved in a silicon chip to Mars on the next NASA rover, how to become a real astronaut and more.
See Mars with the naked eye
ASSIGNMENT: Your adventure, should you choose to accept it, is to go outside at night and look for the Red Planet — Mars — with your naked eyes. In astronomy, seeing something with the naked eye means seeing something without any help, like a telescope or binoculars.
Details: Okay, you may think that this doesn’t count as visiting Mars in person but think of this: The light that you see is the same light that you would see if you were standing on Mars. The sunlight bounced off Mars’ red surface giving it that red color. Then it traveled millions of miles to reach you on Earth. So, a little, tiny piece of Mars, in the form of energy, is captured by your eyes. Amazing, no!?
How to find Mars in the night sky.
Stargazing is easier than you think. Mars is one of the brightest objects in the sky. And, of course, it is red. Mars follows the ecliptic plane, which means it follows a similar path in the sky as the sun and moon. It is challenging to tell the difference between a red planet, like Mars, and a red star, like Aldebaran, but one clue is that planets move much faster. So, if you watch Mars over the course of a few nights, it will be in a different position relative to the background of stars. Mars is not always visible. It might be behind the sun or on the other side of the planet. So, if you need a little help, ask an adult, and do some research online. I like to use an app on my phone called “Sky Map.” It will show you the position of Mars and all kinds of other astronomical wonders.
Have fun. And please leave us a comment about your discoveries.
Name the next Mars rover
Update: The previous contest is over, but you’ll still have an opportunity to name the next rover. Stay tuned!
Announcing the Perseverance Rover
UPDATE 2020-03: The contest is over and the winner has been announced. Seventh-grader Alexander Mather chose the winning name Perseverance — and I love it! For the “Name the Rover” contest, NASA received over 28,000 essays (150 words or less) from K-12 students in every U.S. state and territory.
Please read his essay below to learn why Alexander chose this name. This essay reads like a vision statement for humanity. What a dream!
The winning essay:
Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future.Alexander Mather
7th Grade, Springfield, VA
Send your name to Mars
UPDATE 2019-10: This adventure is over, but if you keep watch, you’ll have another opportunity to send your name on NASA’s next mission.
ASSIGNMENT: Your adventure, should you choose to accept it, is to join Scott on his mission to the Red Planet — Mars. Finally! Scott has booked a trip to Mars. (It’s a little embarrassing but this isn’t Scott’s first attempt to go to Mars.) Well… really it is just his name etched in silicon that will be going to Mars on NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover, but everyone is welcome to send their name to Mars.
Details: Hurry! Submit your name for the Mars 2020 Mission by Sept. 30, 2019, to fly along! But, don’t worry if you are late because, starting this fall, students will also have the chance to rename the rover in the “Name the Rover” contest. And, even if you miss that, you can join NASA’s next mission to Mars.
About NASA’s Mars 2020 mission
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of life in a region of Mars where the ancient environment is believed to have been favorable for microbial life. The rover launches next summer, July 2020 and lands February 2021. Part of the rover’s cargo will be millions of names laser-etched onto a microchip. Each line will be less than 0.1% the width of a human hair. Wow! That’s tiny. I hope the Martians have a magnifying glass.
Below is a video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing an animated flyover of the Martian surface and the Jezero Crater. It explains why the crater, a 28-mile-wide ancient lake-delta system, is the best place for the Mars 2020 rover to find evidence of life. The rover will also collect samples for a possible return flight to Earth, though this mission hasn’t yet been planned. To learn more about the mission, please visit https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020
Visit a museum
This mini-adventure is not your own backyard, but a little further away at your local museum, you might be able to see an actual piece of Mars. Yes, really! Sometimes pieces of Mars fall to Earth as meteorites. Check your local science and history museum to see if they have Mars meteorites in their collection.
How to become a real astronaut
Visit the NASA website to apply
Yes! NASA really needs astronauts to visit Mars. Check out this cool recruitment poster they made.
Here are the basic requirements to be an astronaut per the official NASA website. As with any adventure, planning is a must — sometimes years of planning. Applicants to be an astronaut must meet the following minimum requirements before submitting an application. The following is reprinted from the NASA website and it may have changed.
Astronaut Candidate (Non-Piloting background)
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics.
- Degree must be followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience or at least 1,000 pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience as follows: master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience. Teaching experience, including experience at the K – 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position; provided the degree is in a Science, Engineering, or Mathematics field.
- Ability to pass the NASA long-duration Astronaut physical, which includes the following specific requirements:
- Distant and near visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 in each eye. The use of glasses is acceptable.
- Since all crewmembers will be expected to fly aboard a specific spacecraft vehicle and perform Extravehicular Activities (spacewalks), applicants must meet the anthropometric requirements for both the specific vehicle and the extravehicular activity mobility unit (space suit). Applicants brought in for an interview will be evaluated to ensure they meet the anthropometric requirements.