The purpose of this activity is to help you understand some of the factors involved when NASA designs a real mission to space. In this interactive, you should build a spacecraft in order to explore the planet Mercury—just as the NASA team did when they planned and built the real MESSENGER spacecraft! To begin, click on the start icon, which takes you to the first screen where you choose both the difficulty level and one of three launch vehicles (Space Shuttle, Atlas 5, and Delta IV) in order to play the activity. You should load the chosen spacecraft with instruments that will enable you to accomplish the six mission goals:
- Take pictures of Mercury's surface
- Measure the chemicals and elements that make up the planet's crust
- Search for magnetic regions of the crust
- Gather details about volcanoes and other tectonic features
- Measure gases in the atmosphere
- Measure energy and charged particles in the planet's magnetic field
While loading the spacecraft, you need to keep in mind the cost of instruments and the amount of space available in the cargo area of the chosen space vehicle!
The easiest level (Space Shuttle) has the most funds and room in the cargo bay while the most difficult level (Delta IV) has the least funds and room in the cargo bay. Once a level has been chosen, you should "roll over" each instrument located at the top of the screen to determine its cost and mission goals (these are highlighted on the right side of the screen) that can be achieved. Click one piece at a time and drag it into the cargo bay. As this is done, your funds are automatically deducted from the total amount available. At any time, you can click on the "Unload" icon to remove instruments. But beware! All instruments will be removed, not just the most recent one placed in the cargo bay area!
Once you fill your cargo bays with the appropriate equipment to fulfill all the mission goals without exceeding your budget, then the spacecraft is ready for its Mission to Mercury! Next, you can play one of the other levels!
On the first screen, "Choose a Launch," there are two icons ("How To Play" and "Learn More") that you can click on for information. These same icons with the same information are on each screen, with an additional icon ("Home"). If you click on "Home," you will need to click on "Make A Mission" to return to the correct interactive.
This interactive is a great resource to utilize when teaching students about critical thinking skills and when looking at how technology has helped our society learn more about our world. It is a great tool to use when teaching students about design constraints or about how those who engage in design and technology use scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.
In addition to using this tool in the Science NetLinks Make a Mission lesson, you can use the tool in conjunction with a lesson in which you challenge students to design a machine/or instrument that would allow humans to explore a remote location. In designing the machine/or instrument, students will need to take into account design constraints and use scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.