Mars Society Convention Coming to California October 17-20, 2019

Dates, Location & Theme for 2019 Mars Society Convention

The Mars Society is pleased to announce that the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention will be convened Thursday-Sunday, October 17-20, 2019 on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.

The four-day conference will bring together prominent scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs, journalists and space advocates to discuss the significance of the latest scientific discoveries, technological advances and political-economic-social developments that could impact on plans for the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars.

The theme of the 2019 convention will be The Space Revolution: Opening the Way to Mars, detailing the impact that the ongoing space launch revolution is having on preparation for human Mars exploration.  As always, the agenda will involve a wide variety of plenary talks, panel discussions and public debates concerning key issues bearing on human Mars exploration.

Conference highlights will include the latest exploratory results from the Curiosity and InSight missions and the Mars ExpressExoMars Trace GasMars Reconnaissance and MAVEN orbiters. In addition, there will be updates on the upcoming ExoMars and Mars 2020 missions and a recount of the Opportunity rover’s many accomplishments on the Red Planet.

A number of special events will be held during the convention:

  • The final face-off of the Mars Colony Design Contest, in which ten finalists drawn from around the world will present their creative designs for a 1,000 person Mars settlement before a panel of eminent judges and the international space community.
  • A discussion on how SpaceX’s fast-moving program to create the reusable Starship heavy lift launch vehicle could serve to open the way to exploring the Red Planet and beyond.
  • The annual keynote address and evening entertainment during the Saturday banquet.

Previous Mars Society conventions have drawn hundreds of participants from all over the world and have received extensive national and international press coverage. This year’s conference should be one of the most exciting and interesting events to date. We hope that you’ll join us!

To register for the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention, now with early bird special rates, please visit: Also for convention updates in the coming weeks and months, please visit our web site:

Call for Papers

Presentations for the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention in October are invited dealing with all matters (science, engineering, politics, economics, public policy, etc.) associated with the exploration and settlement of Mars.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be sent by September 17th. Those submissions received after the deadline will not be included in the printed convention literature and are lower priority for adding to the final schedule.

[NEWThose intending to submit an abstract for consideration should complete the online form located at:


What is a Mars Rover?

Mars Curiosity: Facts and Information

NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity

An artist’s concept illustrates what the Mars rover Curiosity will look like on the Red Planet.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars Science Laboratory and its rover centerpiece, Curiosity, is the most ambitious Mars mission yet flown by NASA. The rover landed on Mars in 2012 with a primary mission to find out if Mars is, or was, suitable for life. Another objective is to learn more about the Red Planet’s environment.

In March 2018, it celebrated 2,000 sols (Mars days) on the planet, making its way from Gale Crater to Aeolis Mons (colloquially called Mount Sharp), where it has looked at geological information embedded in the mountain’s layers. Along the way, it also has found extensive evidence of past water and geological change.

[For the latest news about the mission, follow’s Mars Science Lab Coverage.]

As big as an SUV

One thing that makes Curiosity stand out is its sheer size: Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV. It is 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1 inch wide (3 m by 2.8 m) and about 7 feet high (2.1 m). It weighs 2,000 lbs. (900 kilograms). Curiosity’s wheels have a 20-inch (50.8 cm) diameter.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed the rover to roll over obstacles up to 25 inches (65 centimeters) high and to travel about 660 feet (200 m) per day. The rover’s power comes from a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which produces electricity from the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay.

Science goals

According to NASA, Curiosity has four main science goals in support of the agency’s Mars exploration program:

  • Determine whether life ever arose on Mars.
  • Characterize the climate of Mars.
  • Characterize the geology of Mars.
  • Prepare for human exploration.

The goals are closely interlinked. For example, understanding the current climate of Mars will also help determine whether humans can safely explore its surface. Studying the geology of Mars will help scientists better understand if the region near Curiosity’s landing site was habitable. To assist with better meeting these large goals, NASA broke down the science goals into eight smaller objectives, ranging from biology to geology to planetary processes.

In support of the science, Curiosity has a suite of instruments on board to better examine the environment. This includes:

  • Cameras that can take pictures of the landscape or of minerals close-up: Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
  • Spectrometers to better characterize the composition of minerals on the Martian surface: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam), Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.
  • Radiation detectors to get a sense of how much radiation bathes the surface, which helps scientists understand if humans can explore there – and if microbes could survive there. These are Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN).
  • Environmental sensors to look at the current weather. This is the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).
  • An atmospheric sensor that was primarily used during landing, called Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI).

A complicated landing

The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 26, 2011, and arrived on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, after a daring landing sequence that NASA dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror.” Because of Curiosity’s weight, NASA determined that the past method of using a rolling method with land bags would probably not work. Instead, the rover went through an extremely complicated sequence of maneuvers to land.

From a fiery entry into the atmosphere, a supersonic parachute needed to deploy to slow the spacecraft. NASA officials said the parachute would need to withstand 65,000 lbs. (29,480 kg) to break the spacecraft’s fall to the surface.

Under the parachute, MSL let go of the bottom of its heat shield so that it could get a radar fix on the surface and figure out its altitude. The parachute could only slow MSL to 200 mph (322 kph), far too fast for landing. To solve the problem, engineers designed the assembly to cut off the parachute, and use rockets for the final part of the landing sequence.

About 60 feet (18 m) above the surface, MSL’s “skycrane” deployed. The landing assembly dangled the rover below the rockets using a 20-foot (6 m) tether. Falling at 1.5 mph (2.4 kph), MSL gently touched the ground in Gale Crater about the same moment the skycrane severed the link and flew away, crashing into the surface.

NASA personnel tensely watched the rover’s descent on live television. When they received confirmation that Curiosity was safe, engineers pumped fists and jumped up and down in jubilation.

News of the landing spread through traditional outlets, such as newspapers and television, as well as social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. One engineer became famous because of the Mohawk he sported on landing day.

Tools for finding clues to life

The rover has a few tools to search for habitability. Among them is an experiment that bombards the surface with neutrons, which would slow down if they encountered hydrogen atoms: one of the elements of water.

Curiosity’s 7-foot arm can pick up samples from the surface and cook them inside the rover, sniffing the gases that come out of there and analyzing them for clues as to how the rocks and soil formed.

The Sample Analysis of Mars instrument, if it does pick up evidence of organic material, can double-check that. On Curiosity’s front, under foil covers, are several ceramic blocks infused with artificial organic compounds. [Related: Curiosity Rover Finds Methane on Mars]

Curiosity can drill into each of these blocks and place a sample into its oven to measure its composition. Researchers will then see if organics appear that were not supposed to be in the block. If so, scientists will likely determine these are organisms hitchhiking from Earth.

High-resolution cameras surrounding the rover take pictures as it moves, providing visual information that can be compared to environments on Earth. This was used when Curiosity found evidence of a streambed, for example.

In September 2014, Curiosity arrived at its science destination, Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) shortly after a NASA science review said the rover should do less driving and more searching for habitable destinations. It is now carefully evaluating the layers on the slope as it moves uphill. The goal is to see how the climate of Mars changed from a wet past to the drier, acidic conditions of today.

“I think the principal recommendation of the panel is that we drive less and drill more,” Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger said during a news conference at the time. “The recommendations of the review and what we want to do as a science team are going to align because we have now arrived at Mount Sharp.”

Evidence for life: Organic molecules and methane

Curiosity’s prime mission is to determine if Mars is, or was, suitable for life. While it is not designed to find life itself, the rover carries a number of instruments on board that can bring back information about the surrounding environment.

Scientists hit something close to the jackpot in early 2013, when the rover beamed back information showing that Mars had habitable conditions in the past.

Powder from the first drill samples that Curiosity obtained included the elements of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, which are all considered “building blocks” or fundamental elements that could support life. While this is not evidence of life itself, the find was still exciting to the scientists involved in the mission.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” stated Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

Scientists also detected a huge spike in methane levels on Mars in late 2013 and early 2014, at a level of about 7 parts per billion (compared to the usual 0.3 ppb to 0.8 ppb). This was a notable finding because in some circumstances, methane is an indicator of microbial life. But it can also point to geological processes. In 2016, however, the team determined the methane spike was not a seasonal event. There are smaller background changes in methane, however, that could be linked to the seasons.

Curiosity also made the first definitive identification of organics on Mars, as announced in December 2014. Organics are considered life’s building blocks, but do not necessarily point to the existence of life as they can also be created through chemical reactions.

“While the team can’t conclude that there was life at Gale Crater, the discovery shows that the ancient environment offered a supply of reduced organic molecules for use as building blocks for life and an energy source for life,” NASA stated at the time.

Initial results released at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference in 2015 showed scientists found complex organic molecules in Martian samples stored inside the Curiosity rover, but using an unexpected method. In 2018, results based on Curiosity’s work added more evidence that life was possible on Mars. One study described the discovery of more organic molecules in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks, while the other showed that methane concentrations in the atmosphere change seasonally. (The seasonal changes could mean that the gas is produced from living organisms, but there’s no definitive proof of that yet.)

Checking out the environment


Besides hunting for habitability, Curiosity has other instruments on board that are designed to learn more about the environment surrounding it. Among those goals is to have a continuous record of weather and radiation observations to determine how suitable the site would be for an eventual human mission.

Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector runs for 15 minutes every hour to measure a swath of radiation on the ground and in the atmosphere. Scientists in particular are interested in measuring “secondary rays” or radiation that can generate lower-energy particles after it hits the gas molecules in the atmosphere. Gamma-rays or neutrons generated by this process can cause a risk to humans. Additionally, an ultraviolet sensor stuck on Curiosity’s deck tracks radiation continuously.

In December 2013, NASA determined the radiation levels measured by Curiosity were manageable for a crewed Mars mission in the future. A mission with 180 days flying to Mars, 500 days on the surface and 180 days heading back to Earth would create a dose of 1.01 sieverts, Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector determined. The total lifetime limit for European Space Agency astronauts is 1 sievert, which is associated with a 5-percent increase in fatal cancer risk over a person’s lifetime.

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station measures the wind’s speed and chart its direction, as well as determining temperature and humidity in the surrounding air. By 2016, scientists were able to see long-term trends in atmospheric pressure and air humidity. Some of these changes occur when the winter carbon-dioxide polar caps melt in the spring, dumping huge amounts of moisture into the air.

In June 2017, NASA announced Curiosity had a new software upgrade that would allow it to pick targets by itself. The update, called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), represented the first time artificial intelligence was deployed on a faraway spacecraft.

In early 2018, Curiosity sent back pictures of crystals that could have formed from ancient lakes on Mars. There are multiple hypotheses for these features, but one possibility is they formed after salts concentrated in an evaporating water lake. (Some Internet rumors speculated the features were actually signs of burrowing life, but NASA quickly discounted that hypothesis based on their linear angles – a feature that is very similar to crystalline growth.)

Issues with the rover

Vapors from a “wet chemistry” experiment filled with a fluid called MTBSTFA (N-methyl-N-tert-butyldimethylsilyl-trifluoroacetamide) contaminated a gas-sniffing analysis instrument shortly after Curiosity landed. Since the scientists knew the collected samples were already reacting with the vapor, they eventually derived a way to seek and preserve the organics after extracting, collecting and analyzing the vapor.

Curiosity had a dangerous computer glitch just six months after landing that put the rover within only an hour of losing contact with Earth forever, NASA revealed in 2017. Another brief glitch in 2016 briefly stopped science work, but the rover quickly resumed its mission.

In the months after landing, NASA noticed damage to the rover’s wheels appearing much faster than expected. By 2014, controllers made in the rover’s routing to slow down the appearance of dings and holes. “They are taking damage. That’s the surprise we got back at the end of last year,” said Jim Erickson, Curiosity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in a July 2014 interview. “We always expected we would get some holes in the wheels as we drove. It’s just the magnitude of what we’re seeing that was the surprise.”

NASA pioneered a new drilling technique at Mount Sharp in February 2015 to begin operations at a lower setting, a requirement for working with the soft rock in some of the region. (Previously, a rock sample shattered after being probed with the drill.)

Engineers had mechanical trouble with Curiosity’s drill starting in ate 2016, when a motor linked with two stabilizing posts on the drill bit ceased working. NASA examined several alternative drilling techniques, and on May 20, 2018 the drill obtained its first samples in more than 18 months.

It should be noted that Curiosity isn’t working alone on the Red Planet. Accompanying it is a “team” of other spacecraft from several countries, often working collaboratively to achieve science goals. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provides high-resolution imagery of the surface. Another NASA orbiter called MAVEN(Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission) examines the Martian atmosphere for atmospheric loss and other interesting phenomena. Other orbiting missions include Europe’s Mars Express, the European ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and India’s Mars Orbiting Mission.


As of mid-2018, Curiosity is working on the surface along with another NASA rover called Opportunity, which has been roaming the surface since 2004. Opportunity was initially designed for a 90-day mission, but remains active after more than 14 years on Mars. It also found past evidence of water while exploring the plains and two large craters. NASA’s Mars Odyssey acts as a communications relay for Curiosity and Opportunity, while also performing science of its own – such as searching for water ice.

More surface missions are on the way shortly. NASA’s InSight mission – a stationary lander designed to probe the interior of Mars – launched for the Red Planet on May 5, 2018, and is expected to land on Nov. 26, 2018. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover should launch for Mars in 2020 to search for evidence of ancient life. And NASA also plans a successor rover mission called Mars 2020, which is closely based on Curiosity’s design. Mars 2020 will carry different instruments, however, to better probe for ancient life. It will also cache promising samples for a possible Mars sample return mission in the coming decades.

In the more distant future, NASA has talked about sending a human mission to Mars – perhaps in the 2030s. In late 2017, however, the Trump administration tasked the agency with sending humans back to the moon first. His administration also requested that funds for the International Space Station cease in 2025, in part to make budgetary room for a moon space station initiative called the Deep Space Gateway.

Additional resources


Chemistry Conversations for K-12

The Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements

One hundred and fifty years ago the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (pronounced “Men-de-LAY-ev”) put together a chart showing the fundamental arrangement in chemistry:  the periodic table of the chemical elements.  This is a chart that lists the elements in order of ascending atomic number and groups elements with similar properties into columns.  Before this, the elements were known essentially as a random assortment of substance with various properties; after it, the elements were in a logical arrangement that cried out for an explanation.  This explanation took the form of atomic theory, atomic structure, and finally quantum mechanics.


Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

  • Disciplinary: Matter and its Interactions
  • Crosscutting Concept: Patterns
  • Science & Engineering Practice: Analyzing and Interpreting Data


2-PS1-1.  Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.

Chemical elements are basic substances, meaning that they cannot be broken down further into other substances.  One everyday example of a chemical element is carbon, which you can see in the “lead” of a pencil.  Other examples are gold and silver, which are found in expensive jewelry.

As chemists discovered more and more elements, they started to try to organize them into some pattern.  The first person to succeed in organizing them was the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who created the periodic table in the 1860s and put the elements in order by their atomic weights.  There have been a few small improvements to Mendeleev’s table since then—most notably ordering the elements by the number of protons in each their atoms—but his basic structure has stayed the same.

Elements are made up of tiny things called atoms, which are made of even smaller parts—protons, electrons, and neutrons.  The number of protons in each atom of an element is called that element’s “atomic number.”  The periodic table arranges the elements from the lowest atomic number, hydrogen with 1 proton per atom, up to oganesson with 118 protons per atom.  The table is arranged in rows; each row is called a “period.”  Each element has its own square in the table which shows the element’s name, its symbol (one or two letters), its atomic number and its atomic weight.  Elements in the same column share similar characteristics; this is what makes the table periodic.

While the names of elements may differ from one language to another, the chemical symbols are the same.  That makes it easy for scientists to share information, since everyone can recognize the chemical symbols no matter what language they speak.


5-PS1-1.  Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

ML80Img1Substances around us can be divided into two types:  elements and compounds.  An element is a substance that is made up of one type of atom; a compound is made up of different elements.  While the number of compounds is virtually unlimited, there are only about 90 elements that exist in nature.

Try to imagine yourself as a chemist two or three centuries ago.  You have all this information about different substances, their various properties, how to combine certain substances to create other substances, and so on.  You can get a fair idea of what substances are elements—elementary substances, made up of only one type of thing—and what substances are compounded from more than one element.  But even these elementary substances come in a bewildering variety:  some are gas, a couple are liquid, most are solid, the solid ones melt at a wide variety of temperatures, some combine easily with other substances, others barely react chemically at all.  How do you make sense of it all?

ML80Img2You can think of the process as being similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  There are several differences, though.  For one thing, you do not have a picture on the front of the box telling you what the finished periodic table will look like.  For another, when Mendeleev put his periodic table together, half the pieces were still missing.  Chemical elements were being discovered every few years, but still several were unknown.  The figure on the right shows the elements and the year in which each one was discovered; those colored in green, blue, dark blue, or violet were unknown in 1869.  Not having the bottom row is not a big deal, but missing the last column makes a difference.  The green-colored elements scattered around the middle of the table (which were also unknown when Mendeleev did his work) can also be quite confusing.  Conversely, the few yellow- and orange-colored boxes in the separate bar at the bottom of the chart, which Mendeleev did know about, were just isolated elements which he did not know where to put in the table.


MS-PS1-1.  Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev assembled the periodic table of the chemical elements, bringing order to what had been a very chaotic arrangement.  He was not the first person to try to do this; in fact, he was not even the first person to succeed in doing it.  He was, however, the first person to publish a workable periodic table.

Before 1800, so few of the chemical elements had been discovered that arranging them into a table was out of the question.  As more and more elements were isolated and their properties determined, though, chemists began to notice similarities in the properties of some of them.  In the 1820s, Johann Döbereiner noticed that triads of different elements tended to have similar properties.  He did not have enough data, though, to develop more than just a few of these triads; also, because of other undiscovered elements, there were several known elements that he could not put into triads.  His idea did not catch on.  A few years later an English chemist named John Newlands suggested arranging the elements in “octaves” (really of seven elements in a row because the noble gases had not been discovered yet), but his system broke down after the first couple of “octaves” and one wag suggested that he could get better answers by arranging the elements in alphabetical order.

About the same time that Mendeleev figured out the periodic table that we used, another chemist named Lothar Meyeralso figured out how to arrange the elements into a periodic table.  Meyer published an abbreviated periodic table of the first 28 elements in 1864, five years before Mendeleev’s publication, and may have developed his full periodic table before Mendeleev, but he did not publish his work until 1870.  Mendeleev’s work was also more complete in that he used his periodic table to predict the properties of undiscovered elements, which Meyer had not done.

As an aside, Mendeleev’s name is usually rendered in English as “Dmitri Mendeleev.”  Mendeleev was Russian, however, and his name in Russian (using the Cyrillic alphabet) is “Дмитрий Менделеев.”  His last name is pronounced with four syllables, not three; it has also been rendered into English as “Mendeleyev” or even “Mendelejeff” (as seen in the second line of the picture in the Grades 9-12 section).  His first name is sometimes spelled as “Dmitrii.”  In addition, the date given for Mendeleev’s assembly of the periodic table is often listed as March 1.  Mendeleev was Russian, however, and Russia still used the Julian calendar in 1869, so the date as far as he was concerned was actually February 17.

Suggested Activity:  List the chemical elements on a (very long!) length of adding machine tape.  Then roll up the tape into a “cylinder with bulges,” attaching each element to the one below it in the table with tape, staples, paper clips, or anything else that works.  The effect should be something like what is seen in the first few pictures on this web page.  This shows the periodic table without the artificial breaks between the noble gases and the alkali metals.  The “n” in the pictures stands for an isolated neutron; while this is not, strictly speaking, a chemical element, one could think of it as a “zeroth” element with hydrogen and helium being the first and second elements.


HS-PS1-1.   Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.

ML80Img3A sign of a major advance in science is that it sheds light on many different phenomena and makes many predictions that can be verified.  Mendeleev’s periodic table made some very specific predictions about chemical elements that had not been discovered at the time he assembled the table.  A typewritten version of his table, shown at the right (note that decimal points appear as commas), shows four missing elements with predicted atomic weights of 45, 68, 70, and 180.  These elements (scandium, gallium, germanium, and hafnium) were discovered later.  Even more striking, Mendeleev predicted several properties of these elements based on the properties of other elements on the same rows as the missing ones.  In addition to this, Mendeleev noted that several elements (erbium, yttrium, indium, thorium, tellurium, gold, and bismuth) seemed to be out of place in the table.  Because the table was arranged by atomic weight, this meant that the measured atomic weights as known at the time must be wrong.  When chemists measured the atomic weights of these elements again, the first (and lightest) five of them had indeed been measured incorrectly.

The periodic table also opened the way for advances in theories about the structure of the atom.  When Mendeleev published his table, scientists were still divided over whether atoms were real things or whether they were just a handy mathematical concept for understanding how some things happened.  With his ordering of the chemical elements and his establishment of the regular repetition of various physical and chemical properties of those elements, Mendeleev laid the groundwork for other scientists to think about the structure of atoms and how that structure would affect the atoms’ chemical properties.  Decades later, with the advent of quantum mechanics, the arrangement of electrons in “shells” around a central atomic nucleus gave a more fundamental explanation of the periodicity of the properties of the elements.  If the electrons in the outermost “shell” were arranged the same in two different elements, those elements would have similar properties.

Mendeleev’s periodic table, like all pioneering efforts, was not 100 percent correct.  For one thing, he had arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weight.  Some elements were out of order, though:  after argon’s discovery in 1894, for example, chemists knew immediately that it belonged before potassium in the table even though it had a larger atomic weight.  Other examples were not so obvious.  Some scientists proposed an “atomic number” which usually increased with atomic weight but which deviated from it now and then.  A quarter-century after Mendeleev published his table, German physicist Konrad Roentgen discovered x-rays.  In 1913, a young Englishman named Henry Moseley established that the frequencies of the x-rays emitted by the elements fell onto a smooth curve when graphed against their position on the periodic table, with just a few exceptions, establishing the validity of the idea of the “atomic number.” The exceptions were elements with out-of-order weights and other missing elements—in addition to Mendeleev’s—whose existence Moseley predicted from his results.  (All of the predicted elements were found within a few decades.  One of them, hafnium, had also been predicted by Mendeleev.)  This atomic number is now recognized as the number of protons in the atom’s nucleus and the number of electrons surrounding the nucleus when there is no net charge on the atom.  (Remember that when the idea was proposed, scientists were still not sure about whether atoms were real.)  The modern periodic table puts the elements in order of increasing atomic number.

While this is not directly related to the periodic table, your students may enjoy this song listing the chemical elements by Tom Lehrer, who was a mathematics professor from Harvard University who took up songwriting in the 1960s.

Sixty Years Ago in the Space Race:

February 17, 1959:  The American Vanguard 2 was launched into orbit.  The third stage nudged the satellite, causing it to wobble.  It is still in orbit.
February 28, 1959:  The Americans launched Discoverer 1, the first American spy satellite.  It was a prototype that did not carry a camera or film and was the first object launched into polar orbit.


Mars Rover Died Today

Mars rover declared dead after 15 years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, rolling across the rocky red soil, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the planet.

The six-wheeled vehicle that helped gather critical evidence that ancient Mars might have been hospitable to life was remarkably spry up until eight months ago, when it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm.

Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact, and sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night, along with one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” in a somber exercise that brought tears to team members’ eyes. There was no response from space, only silence.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science missions, broke the news at what amounted to a funeral at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, announcing the demise of “our beloved Opportunity.”

“This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas said at an auditorium packed with hundreds of current and former members of the team that oversaw Opportunity and its long-deceased identical twin, Spirit. “Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.”

The two slow-moving, golf cart-size rovers landed on opposite sides of the planet in 2004 for a mission meant to last 90 sols, or Mars days, which are 39 minutes longer than Earth days.

Slideshow by photo services

In the end, Opportunity outlived its twin by eight years and set endurance and distance records that could stand for decades. Trundling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles (45 kilometers) and worked longer than any other lander in the history of space exploration.

Opportunity was a robotic geologist, equipped with cameras and instruments at the end of a mechanical arm for analyzing rocks and soil. Its greatest achievement was discovering, along with Spirit, evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.

Project scientist Matthew Golombek said these rover missions are meant to help answer an “almost theological” question: Does life form wherever conditions are just right, or “are we really, really lucky?”

The twin vehicles also pioneered a way of exploring the surface of other planets, said Lori Glaze, acting director of planetary science for NASA.

She said the rovers gave us “the ability to actually roll right up to the rocks that we want to see. Roll up to them, be able to look at them up close with a microscopic imager, bang on them a little bit, shake them up, scratch them a little bit, take the measurements, understand what the chemistry is of those rocks and then say, ‘Oh, that was interesting. Now I want to go over there.'”

Opportunity was exploring Mars’ Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit and contact was lost. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover’s solar panels.

When the sky finally cleared, Opportunity remained silent, its internal clock possibly so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep or wake up to receive commands. Flight controllers sent more than 1,000 recovery commands, all in vain.

With project costs reaching about $500,000 a month, NASA decided there was no point in continuing.

Callas said the last-ditch attempt to make contact the night before was a sad moment, with tears and a smattering of applause when the operations team signed off. He said the team members didn’t even bother waiting around to see if word came back from space — they knew it was hopeless.

FILE - This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018. There was so much dust in the Martian atmosphere that sunlight could not reach Opportunity's solar panels for power generation. (NASA via AP)© The Associated Press FILE – This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018. There was so much dust in the Martian atmosphere that sunlight could not reach Opportunity’s solar panels for power generation. (NASA via AP)Scientists consider this the end of an era, now that Opportunity and Spirit are both gone.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, all belonging to NASA. Only two are still working: the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, prowling around since 2012, and the recently arrived InSight, which just this week placed a heat-sensing, self-hammering probe on the dusty red surface to burrow into the planet like a mole.

Three more landers — from the U.S., China and Europe — are due to launch next year.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the overriding goal is to search for evidence of past or even present microbial life at Mars and find suitable locations to send astronauts, perhaps in the 2030s.

“While it is sad that we move from one mission to the next, it’s really all part of one big objective,” he said.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Who is Jonathan Nalder?

Jonathan Nalder Goes BOLD


CUE’s 2nd annual BOLD (Blended and Online Lesson Design) Symposium is set for May 4th-5th at Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, CA.

Of the many talented educators who will be presenting and showcasing at BOLD, Jonathan Nalder is set to take the stage as one of two featured speakers.

But who is Jonathan Nalder?

Jonathan Nalder is an out-there creative who chose Education in a ‘get a real job’ moment and ended up still loving it 20 years later. In this time, he discovered the power of personal learning tech to empower students to teach themselves, and has now spent 10 years teaching teachers across Australia and the globe how to transition to digital pedagogy. After a 6-month research sabbatical in 2016, Jonathan was shocked at how fast AI and new tech were changing the workforce. Inspired by this, he founded the community to help teachers show students how to invent their own jobs and solutions, no matter what their futures bring.

With the help from over 350+ members in 17 countries, he has created the Be Future Ready Mapping Tool around the five “big picture skills” of Creativity, Community, Thinking and Planning, Project Delivery and Storytelling – and the practical programs to support students being ready for anything, such as ‘’ lessons (AR, VR, 3D storytelling), and FirstonMars.netexperience (creativity and team work). Now in 2019, Jonathan is supporting the awesome and free Spark Empathy Project from Empatico, a site that links classrooms from all parts of the globe in order to build community via social and emotional intelligence.

Jonathan is convinced that education, digital learning, and futures thinking has the potential to transform lives. As a current ICT Trainer at St. Peters Lutheran College, Apple Distinguished Educator, COSN Advisor, CoSpaces Edu Ambassador, ASU Shaping Edu Ambassador, and Gen[in] Student Innovation Challenge board member, he actively works to make this real and helps learners shift their thinking to embrace the coming fully-digital and automated era.

Jonathan realizes that lesson design is the exact place where best practice, big picture ideas meet classroom realities. He states, “It’s the intersection between being ready for anything, and ready for your specific students!” For BOLD in 2019, Jonathan will help attendees map out the big picture and guide them in how to practically apply best practice in their own classrooms.

What does this mean for BOLD attendees?

With predictions for how many jobs new waves of tech like AI and robotics will impact covering the 30-70% range, understanding what learners (and all of us) will need to succeed is becoming more and more important. Jonathan will help BOLD’ers tackle questions like ‘What do we need to be ready for?’, and ‘How do we even know if students are ready?

Given that helping students be future-proof also makes them a better learner today, what can future-ready lessons look like? Jonathan’s workshop will bring the real by introducing you to the Spark Empathy Project – the free way to boost community and empathy skills in your classroom, as well as:

First Kids on Mars, 2050 – How can you leverage play as well as low-tech and easy-to-access hi-tech ideas to boost creativity and team-work in your classroom? This program uses the creative scenario of solving problems for a failing Mars colony to take students into deep learning of how to work together and solve problems – and you can learn how to apply our activities to your own students needs in this session and via the ‘First School on Mars Teachers Playbook’ (free for BOLD attendees).

MakeXR – Next-gen storytelling. Getting your head wrapped around new tech as diverse as VR, 360-degree images, AR, 3D objects and holograms as well as managing a busy classroom is a lot to ask – but Make XR gives you an ‘extended reality’ framework that explains them all, as well as the lesson workflows and tips to get you started so your students can set themselves apart with next-generation storytelling skills.

Are you ready to go BOLD and get inspired by Jonathan’s work and mission? Register nowand be prepared to get Future-Ready with Jonathan Nalder!

About authorView all postsAuthor website

Kristin Oropeza

Kristin Oropeza is currently a TK-5th Grade Technology TOSA in Southern California. She holds a masters in special education and has worked in public education for over 10 years. Kristin also serves as a director on the CUE Los Angeles board and acts as their Communications Editor. Find her on Twitter @KristinOropeza.


Who wants to go on a simulated Mars mission?

Mission Summary – Crew 203

MDRS Crew 203

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Mission summary


Oscar I. Ojeda – Commander
David Mateus – Executive Officer
Yael Méndez – Crew Scientist
Liza Forero – Crew Geologist
Hermes Bolivar – Greenhab Officer
Santiago Vargas – Crew Astronomer
Freddy Castañeda – Crew Engineer



Crew 203 is the first time a 100% Colombian crew participates on the MDRS. It was 2 weeks rotation on which outreach, technology, and science projects were developed. The crew was comprised of 7 members, 1 of which operated remotely, the Crew Astronomer. The background of the crewmembers is on science and engineering majors, mostly focused on space applications, and planetary sciences and astrobiology. The initiative to develop the project arises from different interest on space exploration from research groups of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the Aerospace Research and Development Group, GIDA-UN, the Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences Group, GCPA, and the National Astronomical Observatory. It is important to notice that Universidad Nacional de Colombia is the largest public university in the country, and has several majors, all together in the same campus, which leads to a highly interdisciplinary environment.

The crew had 2 broad lines of work towards the work on the station, the first one is related to outreach, and the second one is related to science and technology. The interest in developing outreach projects is related to the fact that Colombia does not have a well-developed space field, and this kind of opportunities provide a platform to develop several types of outreach activities, from general to specialized public. In fact, as of the beginning of the rotation, the crew had received exposure to national media. The second line of work is related more specifically to the areas of expertise of the crewmembers, developing projects following years of studies and preparation, and, as it usually happens in space exploration, collaboration with teams left back on Earth.

We are representing our country and university, and for that we picked two elements, the first one is our mascot, a red macaw, or Guacamaya, called Marsta Leticia, native from the forests of South America, and very representative because its feathers carry the colors of the flag of Colombia. The composed name, as traditionally Colombians have, is a transliteration of the name Marta, to include the word Mars, combined with Leticia, which is the capital city of the Amazonas department. Second, our patch is dominated by the colors blue and gold, the owl represents our university, which is shaped like an owl, as designed by Architect Leopoldo Rother, the blue in the background represents Earth, and the red eyes of the owl represent that we have our sight set on Mars. Finally, the golden color represents the El Dorado legend, the ancient riches and traditions of our indigenous people. 




To successfully execute a crew rotation on a Martian analog comprised in its entirety by Colombian crewmembers, executing science, technology, and outreach projects.


Learn about the dynamics of an analog mission, oriented towards future training of crews.

Develop a series of scientific and technological projects oriented towards the future of space exploration.

Generate contents which will serve as a basis for developing outreach projects and activities.



MDRS Crew 203 wants to acknowledge and thank all the people and institutions that made this possible. It’s been a year-long process that required a significant amount of effort from several people. We would like to start by thanking The Mars society, in head of its president, Dr. Robert Zubrin, as well as Director Shannon Rupert, and Atila Meszaros, who made us feel safe and welcomed in this vastness. We would also like to thank all the Capcom officers who were ready to take our reports, comments, and bad jokes during these 2 weeks. And also, all the people behind the scenes working actively to make this possible, Dr. Peter Detterline, David Murray, Scott Davis, and all of those whose name I forget to mention, but surely helped us make our mission smoother and wonderful.

We also want to thank Universidad Nacional de Colombia, our academic home, which allowed us to cross paths and dream about space together. The groups and institutions we belong to, The Aerospace Research and Development Group, GIDA-UN, The Planetary Sciences and Astrobiology Group, GCPA, The National Astronomical Observatory, OAN, and every one of the members which helped us even in the tiniest bit to make this possible.



After having spent 14 days in the station, the crew considers the mission a success. While some of the experiments and research happened slower than expected, the general and specific goals were carried out successfully and we leave the station with a sense of accomplishment, and knowing that the experience acquired will serve to prepare future crews, and to develop better science and technology that will not only serve for the future of space exploration, but also for improving the quality of human life on Earth. The mission gained a lot of media reach on several nationwide newspapers and TV news, which served the purpose of letting people know this kind of research is doable by Colombians. Much of the contents generated during the mission will also be used to generate outreach activities, as well as academic production, contributing to the consolidation of a space sector within Colombia.

It is important to note how the crew bonded on a personal level, and there was a very good environment for work and for personal life. Knowing how to balance those two aspects will be key for the future of space exploration and long term missions.


EVA Summary

The crew executed a total of 8 EVAs during the 2 weeks period at the MDRS. While EVAs are a fundamental element for exploration, on future space missions they won’t be frequent, due to the risks they present for the safety of the crew. The main goal of the EVAs for our crew was to perform sampling for Geological and Biological prospection of sites. A total of 8 EVAs were performed, with a total duration of 24 hours.


Research results

A brief summary of the research results is presented. For more information, please contact the researchers. The projects description can be found in the “Mission Plan” document.

  1. Title: Evaluation of germination of greens under different light wavelengths.

Research team: Hermes Bolivar, Freddy Castañeda, David Mateus


We don’t have results yet, Because, the materials for build the necessary structures arrive to the station late, the experiment stay in process and David will collect the results in the next days.

  1. Topic: Star tracker Positioning systems

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez

During the simulation it was not possible to work in this project due to time, however David is going to continue working in this project during his internship at MDRS

  1. Title: Ethnography of MDRS

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez, Pablo Cristancho

During the simulation David sent 3 Logbooks to Pablo Cristancho and they are going to be analyzed in Colombia

  1. Topic: Recycling & Space sustainability

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez,

During the simulation David gathered a set of data of de solid garbage produced by crew 203, this is going to be analyzed after simulation

  1. Title: Photogrammetry parameters of some samples of the MDRS region.

Researchers: Liza Forero, Fabián Saavedra.

Results: Some outcrops and rock samples were taken in situ. All the images that where obtain are being processed with other satellite images to create DEM´s (Digital Elevation Models). Each model is a 3D recreation of the photographed landscape.

  1. Title: Physic and chemical parameters of some samples of the MDRS region and sample processing with geobiologic potential.

Researchers: Liza Forero, Yael Méndez.

Results: Some grids were made in different areas of the MDRS zone, for each grid three parameters were analysed, conductivity, pH and absorbance, the results of each parameter lecture are being analysed and processed statistically and are going to be compare with an analogue in Colombia.

Samples were collected in North Pinto Hills and Beige Moon region. These samples were characterized according to their physicochemical parameters, finding that, in these places alkalophilic microorganisms can be found, with a high availability of nutrients.

  1. Title: Evaluation of microbiome from surfaces samples at the MDRS

Research team: Yael Mendez, Hermes Bolivar, Oscar Ojeda


This project could not be completed. The temperature of the incubator was not stable due to generator failures and thermal shock occurred, which affected the bacterial cultures. It is expected that next crews can resume the experiment.

  1. Title: Design and construction of an equipment for measuring, register and monitor the variables necessary for the characterization of evapotranspiration in soilless crops with simulation of regolith of Mars.

Researcher: Freddy Castañeda


An unexpected failure in the controller made the equipment unusable for taking measurements, a spare controller was requested but it didn’t reach the simulation time.  The experiment will be developed on the campus of the National University of Colombia recreating the now known conditions of the Mars desert.

  1. Title: Evaluation of the germination of greens on analog Martian soil.

Researcher: Hermes Bolivar, Fredy Castañeda, David Mateus.


The project has been finished, we saw that the number of seeds   on the Martian soil with the potting mix is less than the control, this result, show us the difficult for culture with the Martian soil and require of more research.

Final Notes and Remarks

In general, the performance of the station was nominal. Apart from some issues with the diesel generator and a couple suit batteries, there were no anomalies. We consumed all the proteins provided, as well as most of the snacks. Water consumption was measured to be 530gal, plus the greenhab usage, which was enough for food, drink, and basic hygiene. Mission Support was profoundly helpful and was very responsive to reports and requests. We’d like to suggest the Mission Support mailing list to be updated from the beginning of the field season, so that crews will be aware of the situation.


For future crews:

Don’t over estimate the time for science you have on the station, keeping it up will be demanding.

Prepare your projects with time, find out what’s available at the station before arriving and plan accordingly.

Food is fundamental, don’t starve, you have enough food, and get some cooking skills. A fine plate of food can lift the crew’s spirit.

Read the handbook, it’s there for a reason…!