History of Mars Exploration for Kids

Meet Mars Perseverance Rover

Watch NASA engineers prepare Perseverance for launch

Learn more about the SpaceX Starship for it’s 2022 Mars Mission

On certain nights, if you go outside and look up into the sky you may see a very bright light. It may look like a star, but if you’re looking at the right place and at the right time, you can see the planet Mars. Mars is special because it’s one of the closest planets to Earth. It’s also more similar to Earth than any of the other planets in our Solar System. It has a surface you can walk on. And with the right tools, people could someday live on Mars. Humans have always been interested in Mars and have explored in more than any other planet. 

Because of its color Mars is often called the “Red Planet.” It’s the fourth planet from the Sun and Earth is the third. Because it’s further from the Sun than Earth, it’s very cold on Mars. Like most planets, Mars is very big, but it’s about six times smaller than Earth. It has two small moons named Phobos and Deimos. The surface of Mars is rocky and covered in red-brown colored dust. It’s extremely cold and dry. There is no flowing water on the surface of Mars and no plants or animals live there. However, there is evidence that millions of years ago water flowed on Mars, but over time it froze or evaporated.

Even though there is no life on Mars, it has some amazing geographical features, which include a mountain and volcano called Olympus Mons, which is more than twice the height of Mount Everest and the second-largest known mountain in the Solar System. The Red Planet also has a gigantic canyon called Vallis Marineris, which is 10 times longer than the Grand Canyon and 6 times deeper. If it was on earth Vallis Marineris would stretch all the way across the United States.    

For thousands of years, humans have been interested in Mars. Ancient astronomers such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese watched Mars in the sky with wonder. The Romans named it “Mars” after the god of war, because it was red, the color of blood. In 1877 when Mars was closest to Earth, the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a telescope to draw a detailed map of Mars. As telescopes improved humans learned more and more about the Red Planet. They wondered if it had planets and animals like earth and they dreamed of visiting it someday. Science fiction authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined it having people and wrote adventures about what happened there in his book A Princess of Mars.     

The first attempts to explore Mars were made by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet Union was the name of Russia and other nearby countries at that time. They launched 9 different unmanned rockets in hopes of reaching Mars. Unmanned means no humans are on the rocket. Most of the first spacecraft never made it to the Red Planet, but the Mars 3 lander did land on the surface of Mars, and the Mars 5 lander landed and was able to send back some information before it stopped working. 

In 1964 NASA, the United State’s National Air and Space Administration launched Mariner 4 and Mariner 5 to learn more about Mars. The first spacecraft failed, but the second one made the 7 month trip to the Red Planet. When it arrived it took pictures from space and sent them back to Earth. It was the first time humans saw the surface of another planet! It was amazing! They saw craters and learned that living on Mars would be harder than they expected. More spacecraft were sent and took new pictures of Mars. With each visit, they learned more about our neighboring planet.

The next goal was to land a vehicle on Mars so it could take close up pictures and samples of the Martian air and dirt. Remember, that all of these spacecraft and landers were unmanned, they were robots and didn’t have people on them. They were all controlled by people on Earth. Sending a human to Mars would be much more challenging and dangerous. 

In 1975 NASA sent two more landers to Mars and called them Viking 1 and Viking 2. They landed successfully and sent back color pictures of the surface of Mars. They showed red, rocky land. The Viking landers also learned more about what life would be like on Mars.

Next came the Mars Pathfinder mission, which landed again and this time included a rover. A rover is a robot with wheels and arms that drives around the surface of the Red Planet. It can take pictures and samples of the dirt and air. Then it uses radio communication to send all of this information across space and back to Earth.

Other missions sent more probes to fly over Mars and take pictures. Then in 2012 the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and took even better pictures and samples to prepare for future missions. 

While researching this episode, I learned that this month, July 2020, NASA plans to launch its new and improved rover called Perseverance . If it launches this month it would land on Mars in February and send back whatever it learns. One of the coolest things about the Perseverance rover is it will also have a small helicopter on it that will detach and fly around and explore and take pictures from the sky. 

Also, just this last week China launched its first spacecraft and lander to explore Mars. Mars exploration is really exciting lately! I’m look forward to hear what they find out next. 

The next big step with Mars will be sending humans to live and do research there. Elon Musk is a tech billionaire and visionary who has made sending humans to live on Mars the mission of his company, SpaceX. His goal is to send humans there by 2022. This is called colonization. It’s a big goal, but he and his engineers have accomplished amazing things in the past. He also started Tesla, which makes the famous electric cars.

In 2020 if SpaceX is ready, their mission to Mars would begin by launching their Starship spacecraft attached to their Super Heavy rocket. It would probably take 6 months to get from Earth to Mars, but the engineers at SpaceX are working to make it faster. Two more Starships would launch the same year. If SpaceX reaches the Red Planet they’ll have to be prepared to live there. First, humans will need oxygen, because Mars’s air does not have oxygen like Earth’s. They will bring some of their own oxygen and also use special machines to pull other elements like Carbon Dioxide out of the air and convert it into oxygen. They’ll also need water. One way to do this is to dig up the soil and extract water from deep in the ground or from frozen ice caps. They will also need to wear special suits because its air doesn’t protect them from the Sun’s radiation — and radiation is very dangerous to the body. The Red Planet is also extremely cold. Their homes and suits will need to keep them warm. These habitats will also have the oxygen and air pressure the body needs to survive. And  of course humans need to eat, so they will bring some of their own food at first, but if they want to live there for a long time they’ll need to figure out how to grow plants in Martian soil, so they can eat them. 

Many teams are already preparing for life on Mars by living in habitats in the desert on Earth. Living alone will be a challenge and all of the astronauts will have to work as a team and find ways to get along with each other. The goal to send people to Mars is a big one, but humans have done amazing things in the past as they think big and work together.

Would you like to visit a faraway place like the space station or the Moon or Mars someday? What kind of skills would you need to survive in a place like that? If so, what can you do now to prepare to explore like an astronaut or create new devices like the engineers at NASA and SpaceX? 

Building things requires a knowledge of math and science. It also requires creativity. There are a few ways you can develop these skills on your own and at school. Remember that even though subjects like math don’t always seem interesting at first, understanding them can give you the ability to do amazing things.

Also, teamwork is important to achieve big goals. All of the space missions require huge teams of engineers and scientists, mission control operators, and astronauts to get the job done. No one achieves these feats alone. Learning to be patient and get along with your friends and family members prepares to work well with others and on a team. This will be important for the rest of your life.     

And be sure to mark your calendar for July 30th as NASA prepares to send its next rover, The Perseverance, to Mars. 

Thanks for listening! Be sure to check out our website BedtimeHistoryStories.com to see our favorite books and movies about Mars exploration and a really cool video of NASA preparing its next Mars mission and SpaceX’s 2020 Mars mission. That’s BedtimeHistoryStories.com 

What is a star?

Close your eyes and imagine you are standing in a wide open field. In the field you see a gigantic white rocket reaching far up into the sky. As you walk up to the rocket, the door opens and you climb inside and find a seat and buckle up. Next you hear the countdown – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Suddenly the rocket rumbles as it lifts of the ground and shoots through the sky, past the clouds, and up, up, up into space. When you look out the window you see the round blue ball of earth far below.

The rocket is going faster and faster. You zoom past the moon as the rocket picks up speed. Soon the other planets of our solar system pass you by. You look back and notice the earth has grown smaller and smaller until it has disappeared from view. Then suddenly you are traveling at the speed of light, and before long you have left the solar system and are deep into outer space. All is black. You travel further and further until suddenly you look out your window and see a beautiful cloud of dust and gas all swirling together. You have arrived at the place where stars are born. It is called a stellar nursery, which means a star birthing place.

Stars are sort of like people in that they are born, and they grow until they are bigger, and then eventually get old and die. But unlike people stars live for millions or even trillions of years. Our own sun is a star, it’s just a lot closer than the stars we see twinkling in the sky at night that appear so small.

For millions of years clouds of dust and gas in space swirl around each other in what is called a nebula. Over time these clouds slowly group together into clumps that eventually become baby stars — or protostars. Some stars grow bigger and bigger until they become as large as our own sun. And often they have their very own planets, just like our sun has its own planets. These stars become very hot  and bright, which is why when you look up at the sky at night you can see them even though they are sooo far away. To travel to many of these stars would take thousands of years.

The reason we know a lot about how stars are born is because of a space telescope. A space telescope is a telescope that is launched into space and can see better because it is above the earth. The Herschel Space Observatory was built by the European Space Agency and watched where stars were born for 4 years. Because of the hard work of the engineers and astronomers working on this space telescope, we know a lot more about the life of stars.

After changing from clouds of gas and dust many of these baby stars eventually become “main sequence” stars, then sub-giant stars and then red giant stars. Many of these very large stars are thousands of times bigger than our own sun. And our own sun is very, very big.

After millions of years even stars grow old and die. Eventually they begin to collapse in on themselves and then suddenly explode in what is called a supernova. During a supernova they shoot gas and dust for millions of miles around them. Supernovas happen in the universe all the time but often it’s hard for us to see them happening because there are so many stars and they are so far away. The people who study stars are called astronomers. Most astronomers thought the only way to see supernovae would be to use a large telescope run by many astronomers. In Australia there was an amateur astronomer named Robert Evans. He had a normal job during the day, but at night his favorite thing to do was to go on his back porch and use his little telescope to watch the stars. Robert was interested in supernovas, when stars explode, but decided he didn’t need all of the big telescopes to see them. So he started watching for supernovas on his own. For many nights Robert didn’t see anything. But he kept watching and kept waiting, until he saw his first supernova. He was so excited. Over the years Robert has seen 42 supernovae! Which is an amazing achievement. Because Robert is very patient and very diligent he has been able to see when these gigantic stars explode all the way across the galaxy.

When we look out in the night sky we see many stars, but they are very far away. After the sun, the closest star is called Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri is 25 trillion miles away! This gives you a little bit of an idea of how large our galaxy is.

Stars like our sun are very important because they are like huge factories which give off energy and heat. They send this energy in the form of waves that travel all the way across space to Earth. There are many reasons our sun is important. First off, without it would always be night. If it was always night, it would be very hard to see! Also, trees would never grow, because trees need the sun’s energy to grow. Without trees and other plants we wouldn’t have oxygen to breath and animals wouldn’t have food. And without animals and plants we wouldn’t be able to eat either. We would all be in very big trouble! Also, the earth would become very very cold and everything would freeze. Even on hot days, we should be very grateful we have a sun that keeps planet Earth running smoothly.

Next time when you go outside and feel the warm sun on your skin, think about how the sun rays travelled 100 million miles to to make you warm. That’s pretty amazing that an object sooo far away can make its way all the way to you and keep you warm and keep us all alive.

When we learn about how stars and our own sun it makes us grateful for nature and the world around us. And when we understand how important they are it reminds us to respect and take care of what we have.

Tonight think of some ways you can better take care of the Earth, whether it means picking up trash outside or not wasting water or planting flowers or a tree. There are many things around us in nature that we can be curious about and appreciate if we just take the time to notice them.

The Rosetta Comet Mission For Kids

Have you ever heard of a comet? A comet is a gigantic piece of ice and rock and dirt that flies through outer space at incredible speeds. Many comets are the size of mountains and when they speed around space have a tail of gasses that can be hundreds of thousands feet long.

For a long time humans have seen comets in the sky and wondered what they are. some very smart scientists decided they wanted to learn more about comets so they decided to create a spaceship that would find a comet and land on it. This had never been done before but they knew if they build the spaceship right and worked out all of the math correctly they could make it happen.

Many different countries in Europe, designed and started working on the spacecraft they would call Rosetta. It took many different engineers and scientists studying space and spaceships to know how Rosetta should work.

Astronomers, scientists who know a lot about space also had to follow the comet Rosetta would land on. They had to use math to figure out how fast Rosetta should go and where it should go to land on the large rocky comet flying around space.

When Rosetta was ready they blasted the ship into outer space and someone gave it directions to fly. No one was actually on Rosetta because it would be gone for a very long time and might be a very dangerous mission. They flew it sort of like you might fly a remote controlled helicopter or car.

For 10 years Rosetta flew through outer space. It had many adventures there such as passing planets like Mars and asteroids, other rocks in space, many places a spacecraft had never been. After 10 years it finally was close enough to the icy comet speeding through space. All of the engineers and scientists at mission control were very nervous. They had worked very hard for this day and had been very patient waiting 10 years until they could land their ship. When the day finally came they watched in anticipation as Rosetta came into the orbit of the gigantic comet. This comet was as big as a mountain.

Attached to Rosetta was a robot that would land on the comet and do experiments to learn more about the comet. When the time was right the lander shot out of Rosetta and raced toward the massive comet below. For a moment it seemed as thought it wouldn’t work, the lander was off track, then suddenly it shot spears out of its side and stuck into the comets ground. It used these hooks and ropes to pull itself down to the ground. When it hit the ground it tumbled and was broken in some places but eventually came to rest. Everyone at mission control cheered. The robot had landed, Rosetta had completed its mission. This was the first time a robot had ever landed on a comet flying through space! The mission was a success!

Once the lander, which they had called Phillae had time to recharge its batteries it was able to do a few experiments and send the data back to earth. They learned about the water on comets and some of its metals.

Like the scientists and engineers who designed and built Rosetta you can learn all you can about science and other subjects. They had to listen closely and study and do their homework to become skilled at what they do.

Astronomers also helped by learning about the stars. You can go out at night and look at the stars and watch shows and read about all of the amazing things happening in the sky above you.

Waiting for Rosetta to finally reach the comment also took patience. They had to wait many years until it arrived. Over 2000 people worked on this project. This shows that teamwork is important to make great things happen. What would you like to do when you grow up? Think about it tonight, use your imagination and make a list of the things you can do now to improve yourself, then, pick one of them and start right away.

The Neil Armstrong Story for Kids

Today we are going to learn about the first person on the moon. He was a famous astronaut named Neil Armstrong. Neil was born in Ohio and was the oldest brother in his family. When he was little his father took him to a show where airplanes flew and raced across the sky. From the moment he saw airplanes he loved them. He wanted to fly airplanes himself. He wanted to become a pilot. Not long after he saw his first airplanes, Neil got to fly in an airplane. After this he knew for sure he wanted to be a pilot. When Neil was 14 he took his first flying lessons. By the time he was 16 he had a pilot’s license — which meant he could fly a plane all by himself.

Neil loved to fly planes, but he also loved to learn about them. He built his own small model planes and also did experiments on them to see which designs flew the best. He designed a wind tunnel in his house. A wind tunnel is a tunnel which forces wind through it so he could test his model airplanes.

Neil loved airplanes but he also enjoyed learning about space. Often he would look up in the sky and wonder what was out among the stars and if people would ever go there. His neighbor had a big telescope that Neil often used to look at the planets and stars.

In school Neil listened to his teachers and did his homework, because he knew he would need to learn all he could in order to become a great pilot. When he got older Neil went to college and worked hard to learn about planes and engineering. Engineering is the science of building things, which for Neil was building airplanes.

While Neil was in college, a war started and he was called to be a fighter pilot. His job was to fly airplanes off huge ships called aircraft carriers. He flew 78 missions during the war. One time his airplane was shot and he had to eject out of the seat and parachute down to the ground. Fortunately he was rescued and was safe.

After the war and after finishing college Neil became a test pilot. A test pilot tries out new planes to make sure they are safe for others to fly and to help make them better. Sometimes it was a dangerous job, but Neil had courage and tested over 20 new planes. He even set a record for flying one of the fastest planes in the world.

Neil loved airplanes and space so he decided to become an astronaut, a pilot who flies to space! He had to work hard to become an astronaut, because only a few pilots get to become astronauts. While Neil was an astronaut America was planning its first space flight to the moon. Neil was picked to fly the space ship that flew to the moon. While the ship was landing something bad happened and Neil had to fly it down to the ground himself. It was scary but Neil kept his cool and landed the spaceship safely. After they landed, Neil was the first person to step onto the moon. People all over the world watches as Neil stepped onto the moon and put an American flag there. Neil’s footprint is still on the moon today, because there is no wind on the moon to blow it away.

Like Neil, you can be curious about the world around you. Neil was curious about airplanes and space and learned all he could about both of them so he could become an astronaut. He also listened closely in school and did his homework so he could become an airplane builder. He was brave during the war when he was a fighter pilot. He was also brave when testing new airplanes. Before going to the moon he had to practice day after day in order to pilot the first space craft. Like Neil, you can do great things when you are curious, brave, learn new things and practice, practice, practice!