Follow this link to skip to the main content
Image of a futuristic plane flying over the surface of Mars.
 Button that takes you to the Overview Section. Button that takes you to the Teacher's Toolkit Section. Button that takes you to the Student Materials Section. Image that says Mission Day.
 Mission Day
How to Set up the Classroom

What Happens During the Simulation

Communications Center

What Happens During the Simulation

Here is an outline for how the mission typically runs over the 60-75 minute time frame. All times given here are approximate. The mission may run shorter or longer depending on decisions students make.


t-minus 20 min.
Classroom links with NASA’s simulated mission control.

t-minus 10 min.
Students arrive and double check for all team materials, Internet connectivity and make team replacements for any absences.

t-minus 5 min.
The main communicator or teacher should ask for the attention of the entire room and come up with a class name for the mission, such as “Operation New Frontier”.

Mission Control should give the communications teams a password for logging onto the mission website. Once they do, all teams should get online. If the computers are not already on the correct web site, open the internet browser and go to:

At this point, the communications experts log in and begin chatting with mission control. The mission control flight director reviews the communications protocols with the communicators.

The other experts should wait for about 10 minutes after the mission begins until the flight director signals all teams to examine the data. Then each group of experts on each team would open the tools as directed by Mission Control.

t-minus 0 min.
Flight director begins the mission. All students should be watching and listening to the flight director.

The Story:
The year is 2022. After months of space travel, your team of astronauts finally arrives at its destination: Mars. The mission directive is to establish a base and begin building. Your first concern is finding water beneath the surface. With water, you get a limitless supply of hydrogen for fuel, oxygen for breathing and of course, liquid for nourishment. Without water, you would have to turn around and go home before the precious supplies you have on board run out.

The goal of this mission is conduct aerial reconnaissance to find an ideal location to build the first Martian base. The acronym M.A.R.S. stands for Mars Aerial Reconnaissance Simulation. Each team of four to six students will control the flight path of one M.A.R.S. surveyor plane. Students will use their planes to scan potential sites for two major requirements. First, they need to find a site big enough on which to build a Martian base. That means the site must measure at least 10 square kilometers. Second, the site must contain high concentrations of hematite, a mineral normally formed in the presence of water.

Guided by these requirements, each team will select a flight path for its M.A.R.S surveyor plane and identify an ideal site on which to build the first Martian base. At the end of the mission, students will decide as a group on which site to recommend to Mission Control.

t-plus 10 min. through t-plus 45 min.
Teams download, calculate, and communicate. See the table below for the flow of tasks and communications over the remaining part of the mission:

  Navigation experts Science/Operations experts Communications
Mission start Begin site selection process comparing three sites. Science/Operations experts perform equipment check on site 'p.' Test chat window; review protocol with Mission Control.
Site 1 Site selection information is passed to Sci/Ops experts verbally. Nav report form is passed to Comm officers. Continue site selection process for site 2. Science/Operations experts begin measuring site area and hematite levels for site 1. Sci/Ops experts assign a rating to the site (rating of 1-3). Science/Operations report form is passed to Communications officers. Communications officers send data from Nav and Sci/Ops experts to Mission Control using the Comm tool. Return forms to Nav and Sci/Ops experts.
Sites 2-7 Continue cycle as described above until fuel runs out.
Dust Storm A dust storm may appear at some point in the mission. The flight director controls this event. Students will need to make decisions based on the activity of the dust storm.
Additional Sites If additional sites are visited, continue cycle as needed.
Final Site Selection All teams meet to select final site for recommendation to Mission Control.
Mission Debriefing Navigation experts give a report. Sci/Ops experts give a report. Communications officers give a report.

t-plus 45-50 min.
The mission concludes with the each team choosing the one best site. Then all the teams should discuss the various sites and the class should choose only one site as their final recommendation to mission control.

The flight director will, at this point, direct the teams to answer a series of post-mission questions.

t-plus 55 min.
Student teams will report the answers to their post-mission questions. Each team should come up to the communication station, so they may all be seen on the screen.

Download Microsoft Active Accessibility.
Animation showing all of the innovative programs for digital learning that the Center for Educational Technologies has developed. Some of them include: EVA Alert, M.A.R.S., and Target Moon. Button that takes you to the Classroom of the Future home page.  The caption reads: Developed by the NASA-Sponsored Classroom of the Future.
Image that shows the bottom border of the page.
Image of Live Simulation M.A.R.S. Logo that takes you to the home page.