Brigitte McAllister

Mission to Mars
Cedar Wood Elementary
Bothell, WA

[Exemplary Programs] - [Cedar Wood Elementary] - [Mission to Mars]


Cedar Wood elementary school conducted its second 24 hour simulated space launch in May of 1994, led by Fran O'Rourke. Brigitte McAllister's fifth grade class participated in this project by simulating a mission to Mars. For this mission, her class transformed one portable into the planet Mars and another into a Mars colony.

(Photo courtesy of Brigitte McAllister)


Five months were spent preparing for this project. The students:
The students then decided the areas of space exploration that interested them and put together display proposals for the grand event in late May. All the remaining students in the school had the opportunity to visit the student-developed stations in the simulations of Mars and the Mars colony.

The students decided to display six stations

  1. Space Colony
  2. Soil Testing
  3. Growing Plants on Other Planets
  4. RAM Accelerator
  5. Astronaut Training
  6. Biomedical Research

Space Colony

(Photo courtesy of Brigitte McAllister)

An informational packet entitled "Space Station: K-5 Hands-on Science and Math Lesson Plans" was obtained from Boeing. For this mini unit the students learned about the purpose of space stations and colonies. They wrote a report about Salyut, Skylab, and Mir. The students also learned about the configuration of a space station/colony, specifically the laboratory and habitat modules. Each of the students then constructed a mini space station using paper. A team of six students built a model of the space colony that the portable represented. They named it S.C.O.R.P.I.O.N., which stands for Space Colony on Red Planet in Outer Nations. During the day of the simulated space launch, each member of this team shared their knowledge of space colonies with the other students who visited the portable.

Soil Testing

(Photo courtesy of Brigitte McAllister)

The students who represented this station were given a science kit with all the necessary materials to test soil. First, the students had to research the properties of soil. This team also researched the Viking mission and discovered that Martian soil contained no organic material. These students then conducted the soil tests for the students who visited this station.

Growing Plants on Other Planets

The students wrote to Oracle, Arizona, and Epcot Center to obtain information on growing plants in space. Research on the Biosphere II project and Epcot's research in "The Land" became a vital part of our project. We also obtained information from Bottle Biology Project and Wisconsin Fast Plants to learn how plants can grow from recycled material. As a result of our research, we were able to build a model of a biome from the Biosphere II project. The team of students who represented this station discussed with visitors the possibilities of growing plants on other planets. A video of the Biosphere II project was also played throughout the day.

Ram Accelerator

In preparation for our Mars project, my class went on a field trip to the University of Washington's Aerospace Research Center. While there we learned about the Ram Accelerator and were given the opportunity to view it. A team of my students then built a model of the RAM Accelerator and prepared a summary of its future use. During the day of the simulated space launch, this team of students shared with visitors how the RAM Accelerator will hopefully launch payloads into space. They discussed how this can be possible without the use of a space shuttle, making it a much more economical way of transporting materials.

Astronaut Training

Video footage of astronaut training centers provided the students with a good understanding of all that is involved. Students understood the effects of microgravity, for example. They also became familiar with training that was done in underwater tests, which were designed to simulate conditions in space. Some research was also done on an international team that spent six months in Antarctica. The students presented this information and provided visuals. This team also studied the various ways the astronauts traveling to and from Mars could maintain strong muscles. An exercise training program seemed to be the most logical answer, but the students did not rule out the possibility of building a space vehicle that simulates gravity.

Biomedical Research

This station was visited by more students than any other station. Two registered nurses helped the students in this station in several ways. The nurses brought in several types of equipment and trained the students how to use them as well as how to interpret the results. The students also did research on the effects of microgravity on the human body. The students discussed various ways of combating nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting while in transit to Mars. They also discussed the affects of living on Mars. Their primary purpose was to monitor the health of the colonists. Each student who visited this station was given a brief "physical". In addition to this, each student was weighed and was told how much he or she would weigh on Mars.


Nearly 600 students toured the portables and as a result gained much information about Mars and space related topics. The students were eager to learn about their topics because it was a hands-on project and not another paper and pencil assignment. They were enthusiastic about becoming experts in their fields and sharing their knowledge with other students. As a result the students who visited the stations saw visuals, experiments, and actually learned from their peers. Overall, the project was a tremendous success and served as a nice addition to the other projects presented by other classrooms.
The Live From Mars
J E Tillman: