Mars probe live stream is a lesson in real time

At around 2 p.m. on Monday, the world experienced a massive scientific success when the NASA InSight probe successfully landed on the surface of Mars – the eighth successful touchdown on Mars in human history and the first probe to study the interior of the Red Planet.

People around the world were able to watch mission control in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena as InSight touched down on the surface of Mars, including Chris Morris’s environmental science class at Tullahoma High School.

According to Morris, streaming the landing during his fourth-period class was both a personal indulgence as well as a living science lesson.

“This is very exciting for me,” said the second-year teacher. “I love outer space. I’m kind of a sci-fi dork.”

Morris added that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect – his class recently completed its unit on Earth’s atmosphere. Having the live stream, which included short clips about the makeup of Mars’ atmosphere, taught his students some new things about other planets’ atmospheres and dovetailed nicely into his lesson plan.

“I think it’s incredibly important for students to see that what we learn in the classroom can transcend the walls of this building,” Morris said. “I think that’s one of the most important things that the kids need to know about their education.”

One student who particularly enjoyed watching the lives stream was junior Turner Boudreaux. He said he’s always been “big into science,” so getting a chance to watch history take place in this lifetime was “pretty exciting.”

“I think it’s just a big event in science,” he said. “It is pretty exciting.”

Turner said learning more about the makeup of Mars – both its atmosphere and what the planet is actually made out of – will help future scientists be able to better plan for any future colonization on the planet.

“Eventually we are going to move to Mars,” he said, so having more probes sent to the red planet and successfully land was significant.

Morris’ class was also joined by THS Principal Kathy Rose and Tullahoma City Schools Director John Carver, who enjoyed getting to watch the scientists in the NASA control room burst into applause and exaltations with the students.

Carver told the class after the video feed cut off that he remembered witnessing moon landings when he was younger and being excited and fascinated by them. By getting to witness significant events like this, he said the students –  or maybe even their children – might one day be able to go to Mars because of the information InSight provides to the team at NASA.

Once the live stream was over, Morris then had his students break into groups to tackle a “problem-based lesson” about the Martian atmosphere, which would conclude the atmospheric lesson interactively.

His students will have spent the last couple days creating a human-inhabitable atmosphere for Mars using their knowledge of Earth’s atmosphere, Morris said.

The purpose of the assignment, he said, is to relay the potential realities of human exploration of the planet, and “to help them see … how complicated it can be to travel there and back.”

 

InSight mission

According to NASA, Mars InSight – short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – is the first Mars lander to give a “thorough checkup” to the planet, which formed an estimated 4.5 billion years ago.

It is also the first outer space robotic experiment to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars – including its crust, mantle and core. According to NASA, studying the interior structure of the planet will give scientists answers to key questions about the early formation of rocky planets such as Earth, Mars and Mercury.

In addition to studying the makeup of the interior of the planet, InSight will also be measuring tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on the planet.

InSight will spend the next two years communicating its discoveries with NASA scientists as part of NASA’s Discovery Program.

For more information on Mars InSight, check out mars.nasa.gov/insight.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.