Space Exploration

A Trip to Mars


Participants play a game that steps through a human mission to Mars, to learn about the variety of people on the ground supporting missions, and the factors that can affect a mission outcome.

Activity Time

10 minutes, although participants may opt to repeat the game multiple times.

Intended Audience

  • Families or other mixed-age groups, including children as young as 4 years old with assistance from an older child, teen, or adult
  • School-aged children ages 5 and up
  • Tweens

What's the Point?

  • Each space mission is supported by a large team with different responsibilities.
  • Missions are influenced by many factors, including weather, solar storms, human health, and technological problems.



For the facilitator:

  • Regular dice to share among participants OR Oversized foam dice OR construct several oversized dice using:
    • 2-4 (6-12-inch-wide) cube-shaped boxes
    • 12-24 pieces of colorful paper
    • 1 thick, dark marker
    • Tape
  • 6 (28" x 22") poster boards for the different mission stages, with folded and taped sheets from the “Poster Scenarios” printed on thin cardstock or thick paper (so that participants cannot see through the paper).
  • OR Use powerpoint version.
  • An uploaded copy of the video “Human Exploration of Mars” from (For participants under age 8, consider playing up to 1:17.)
  • Background information about Mars and about Human Space Exploration

For each participant:


Before the event
  • Prepare the posters:
    • Each Poster should have the step written at the top: Step One: Launch, Step Two: Travel, Step Three A: Habitat, Step Three B: Greenhouse, Step Three C: Ice, Step Four: Return
    • Print and fold the poster scenarios, then tape each of the six (Flight Director, Communications Officer, Flight Activities Officer, Flight Surgeon, Weather Officer, and Public Affairs Officer) to the appropriate poster, so that lifting the flap will reveal the information.
    • Tape the posters in order on walls or prop them up on stands.
  • Review the background information about Mars and Human Space Exploration.
  • Review the game directions
    • Each poster has flaps for mission support staff positions, numbered 1 through 6.
    • At each poster, participants will roll a die. Depending on what number they get, they will lift the corresponding flap on the poster and follow the directions. Participants may continue the mission by proceeding to the next step, try again at the same poster, or to start over at the beginning with a new mission.
    • Participants move to different posters, starting with Step One: Launch, then (if successful) moving on to Step Two: Flight.
    • At Step Three (on Mars) participants decide whether to build a habitat, grow crops on Mars, or search for water ice, and go to the appropriate poster.
    • At the final poster, Step Four: Return, participants keep rolling until they successfully complete their mission.
    • Once participants successfully complete a mission, they can start a new one, until everyone has finished at least one mission.
  • Wrap or cover the faces of the boxes with the colorful paper, and write numbers 1 through 6 on the faces, to be used as dice.


  1. Share ideas and knowledge.
    • Introduce yourself. Help the participants learn each other’s names (if they don’t already).
    • Show the participants the video “How Do You Get To Mars?” and frame the activity with the main message: each space mission has a large team with different responsibilities helping it to be successful.
    • Ask the participants what they would like to explore on Mars.
      • What would they do on Mars?
      • What are some of the reasons that a trip to Mars is difficult?
    • As much as possible, encourage the participants to offer information and to respond to others’ questions. This model can be used to answer questions such as:
      • Why do they want to go to Mars?
      • What are some of the jobs people could do on Mars?
      • What help do astronauts need from people on Earth?
  2. Explain the game. Let the participants know that they will be using a mission sheet to follow the steps of a human mission to Mars and go to different posters.
    • Each poster has different mission staff on it, with a number for written next to each one.
    • At each poster, they will each roll a box with numbers on it (a die).
    • Depending on what number they get, they will lift a flap on the poster and follow the directions.
    • When they successfully complete a mission, they can start a new one, until everyone has finished at least one mission.
    These are just a handful of the people that support NASA missions:
    • Flight Director (FD) leads the flight control team and is responsible for the overall mission; the Flight Director makes all decisions regarding a safe, expedient flight.
    • Communications Officer (Com Officer) serves as primary communicator between flight control and astronauts.
    • Flight Activities Officer (FAO) plans and supports crew activities, checklists, procedures and schedules.
    • Flight Surgeon (Surgeon) monitors crew activities, coordinates the medical operations flight control team, provides crew consultation, and advises flight director of the crew's health status.
    • Weather Officers provides up-to-date information on the potential weather or space weather hazards near the spacecraft.
    • Public Affairs Officer (PAO) provides mission commentary to the news media and the public.
  3. Conclude. Draw on the participants’ observations and reflections:
    • What are the different types of jobs for people helping with space missions?
    • What are some of the problems that might come up during a mission?
    • Do all missions always finish successfully?
    • Aside from being an astronaut, what roles would they like to perform in a mission?

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