Mars Landing Site Selection: An exercise in reading geologic maps and other geologic data sets

Tracy K.P. Gregg
University at Buffalo
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Students use available Mars data to select the next rover landing sites, given appropriate engineering, geologic and biologic constraints.

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This is designed as a 2 or 3-hr long lab in introductory geology course, replacing the standard "reading geologic maps" lab.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Principles of relative dating
  • General map reading i.e. north, scales, lat/long

How the activity is situated in the course


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • To read geologic maps
  • To read other forms of spatial data sets
  • To correlate these data sets without using a computer

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • To interpret geologic maps
  • To make predictions of what would be found in ground-truthing these maps

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Working in groups

Description of the activity/assignment

Upon arrival in the lab, students are designated as an engineer, a biologist, or a geologist. Working in these groups, each group uses available Mars data (including, but not limited to, Mars geologic maps, topography, thermal inertia data) to identify their top three landing sites on the basis of provided criteria. In jig-saw fashion, new groups are generated consisting of one geologist, one engineer, and one geologist. These new groups must agree on their top three landing sites. Finally, the entire class must agree on a landing site.

Determining whether students have met the goals

After selecting their landing site, students are provided with documentation (available on-line) from NASA's landing site selection committees, to see how well the student-selected sites compare with the NASA-selected sites. Each team member grades the team as a whole; each team member also anonymously grades the other individuals in the team.

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