Mars for Earthlings > Lesson Modules > Homework 1- Viking vs. MSL-Curiosity

Viking vs. MSL-Curiosity

Homework 1- Views & Missions in Space

Marjorie A. Chan PhD, Casey Duncan, and Julia Kahmann-Robinson PhD, University of Utah Department of Geology and Geophysics


Students will explore past exploration of Mars and discuss the increase in sophistication of investigation and resolution of data over century and decadal scales.


Make sure students have Google Earth installed on their computers. Students will need internet access. The videos comprise about 15 mins. of watching time. Parts 1 & 2 might take about 30 mins. each.


Space exploration is an iterative process; current exploration builds on the knowledge and technological breakthroughs of past missions, which allows for further sophistication of spacecraft and instruments. This process is best illustrated by comparing two wildly successful missions: Viking launched in 1975, and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) launched in 2011.

Part 1

Watch the following videos then answer the following questions:

· Viking Missions to Mars:

· 7-Minutes of Terror:

· MSL Curiosity Entry, Descent, Landing:

  1. What are some of the complicating factors with landing spacecraft on the surface of Mars?
  2. How is the entry and landing of Viking similar to Curiosity?
  3. How do they differ?
  4. What is your favorite component to Curiosity's landing procedure (EDL)?
  5. How were the landing sites for Viking 1 and 2 selected? How does this differ for the landing site selection for MSL?

Part 2

Discuss the increase in resolution and available data

As imaging/data collection capabilities increase, our ability to comprehend geologic features likewise increases. Consider this through the next activity:

Exploration of historic maps available through google earth

  1. Open Google Earth
  2. Click on the planet icon in the toolbar and select Mars (alternatively, go to top tool bar and click "View" à "explore" à "Mars") to switch to Google Mars.
  3. In the "Layers" panel to the lower left, click on the arrow by "Historic Maps" to expand the layer options and check the circle next to "Giovanni Schiaparelli -1890" (make sure that the global maps layer circle is unchecked).
    • What are some general observations that you can make of this map?
    • What features are prominent in this map?
  4. Click on "Giovanni Schiaparelli" in the layer options to gain information about this map.
    • How and when did he make this map?
    • What do you think the linear features are in this map?
  5. Now, click on the arrow by "Global Maps" to expand the layer options and check the circle next to "Viking Color Imagery".
    • Are there similarities between the historic maps and the global mosaic from spacecraft data?
    • How do the historic maps differ from the global mosaics?

"Face on Mars"

Go to this website:

  1. How does lighting direction influence the appearance of the "Face"?
  2. How does the "Face" seem to change when viewed under higher-resolution imagery?
  3. Does it still look like a face under higher resolution?


Based on the discussion of historic global maps and the "Face on Mars", answer the following:

  1. How does the increase in resolution affect our understanding of geologic landforms?
  2. How does this relate to the scientific process in general?