Mars Society to Hold International High School Mars Mission Design Class & Competition

The Mars Society will hold an international high school student Mars Mission Design Class & Competition this summer.

The virtual class will be a unique experience, allowing high school students from around the world to take part in an educational activity modelled on the design course now practiced by the best world-wide university engineering departments.

A university design class differs greatly from a typical college class. Instead of being taught some material by a professor and then being tested on it, students in an engineering design class are provided background and then asked to work together as a team – or group of teams -to try to design some new technology. For example, a class may be asked to design a new fighter aircraft that needs to meet a difficult set of requirements, and be divided into sub-teams each responsible for a different area, such as aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, and weaponry.

Optimizing any of these necessarily conflicts with the rest. For example, stronger structures add weight, which takes away mass that could be used for propulsion or weapons, and doing anything better nearly always adds to cost.  So, in addition to handling their own area as well as they can, the sub-teams must try to work out the best possible compromise to produce the best overall result. Frequently a number of university engineering classes are given the same problem to solve, and compete against each other’s designs, which really makes the whole thing a great deal of fun.

This summer, the Mars Society is organizing a global competition along these lines, but open to high school students, and with the topic not being the design of a fighter aircraft or nuclear reactor, but of the first human exploration mission to the Red Planet.

Here’s how it is going to work. The 6-week course will be done online allowing participation from students anywhere in the world to take part. The course will consist of three elements:

1.      Lectures by leading experts in areas of science and engineering relevant to the means and goals of human Mars exploration, and assignment of supporting readings. This will prepare the students for the next parts.

2.      The organization of students into design teams, comparable to those in a university engineering design class, charged with designing a human mission to Mars. The ground rules are that it is assumed that they have a mission enabled by the delivery of 30 metric tons of useful payload to the Martian surface, plus an ascent vehicle capable of returning up to five astronauts from the Martian surface to Earth. The students will need to design the surface mission, including its habitat, surface vehicles, scientific instruments, power system and other equipment and supplies, crew size and composition, mission location, scientific objectives, rations, duration, and exploration plan. The designs of each team will be written up in a report, which each team member responsible for authoring a section.

3.      The teams will then compete their designs in a contest, involving live presentations in front of a panel of expert judges, with winners chosen based on technical and scientific merit. The course will run from the beginning of July through mid-August. Tuition fee to the course will be nominal a $50, making it possible for students for all economic levels to participate. Students who contribute a section to a design report will receive a certificate attesting to their participation, useful for augmenting their college entry applications.

The best Mars mission designs will be published by the Mars Society in a book, which will be available for sale in both paperback and kindle forms on Amazon.com.

If you are a student and wish to sign up, you can do so by filling out this online form. The deadline for applying is Wednesday, June 15th, 5;00 pm MT.

We already have a group of eminent instructors, including NASA scientists and commercial space executives, lined up to give the talks, but we can use more! We also need coaches for the design teams and judges for the contest. If you are someone who wishes to help out by serving as a lecturer, coach, or judge, please let us know by signing up here.

Students: This is your chance to not only have some fun while learning a lot, but also to get involved in Mars exploration and have your ideas on how we should explore Mars published!

Professionals: This is your opportunity to not only help a bunch of bright students get into science, but to make educational history by demonstrating the value of a new and much more creative way to teach science at the secondary school level than is currently being practiced.

So don’t wait! Sign up today!