September 18, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘NASA’s Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars to Renew Search for Extinct Life’

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First, pose a question you would like to know the answer to, such as: How does NASA design a Mars mission? Why is Mars the best planet on which to look for signs of past life? What are other countries looking for on Mars?

Then, see what you can discover through research. One place to start is The Times’s Mars topic page, or perhaps one of these past articles:

You might also visit the NASA website for more Perseverance news and information. You can sign up for NASA’s Mission To Mars Student Challenge, where you will learn how to design, build, launch and land a Mars mission.

Additionally, using Instagram on your smartphone, you can explore the challenge of flying the Ingenuity copter on Mars.

Finally, report back to your class about what you learned. Did you find the answer to your question? What additional questions do you now have?

Option 2: Why does the NASA mission matter?

The cost for the Perseverance rover is $2.7 billion. Do you think space exploration and research are worth the high price tag? Would you fund this and future explorations of Mars? Why or why not? How important is it to search for alien life? How skeptical or hopeful are you that the current NASA mission will uncover life?

In an Opinion essay, “Aliens Must Be Out There,” Farhad Manjoo argues we should be looking for extraterrestrial life:

The sun is not special. I know that’s a churlish thing to say about everyone’s favorite celestial body, our planet’s blazing engine and eternal clock, giver of light, life and spectacular Instagram backdrops. Awesome as it is, though, the sun is still a pretty ordinary star, one of an estimated 100 billion to 400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy alone. And the Milky Way is itself just one galaxy among hundreds of billions or perhaps trillions in the observable universe.

Then there’s Earth, a lovely place to raise a species but, as planets go, perhaps as unusual as a Starbucks in a strip mall. Billions of the Milky Way’s stars could be orbited by planets with similarly ideal conditions to support life. Across all of space, there may be quintillions of potentially habitable planets, or even a sextillion — which is more than the estimated grains of sand on all of Earth’s beaches.

So isn’t it hubris to assume that we’re the only life around?

It concludes:

Aliens are almost certainly out there, and finding even circumstantial evidence of other beings — even long-dead civilizations — would alter humanity in deep ways, almost certainly for the better. We might gain perspective on our most intractable problems, we might discover novel technologies, and we might learn of unseen dangers in our future.

All we have to do is open our eyes and look.

Do you agree with Mr. Manjoo? Do you think it is “hubris to assume that we’re the only life around”? Do you believe that life exists — or has ever existed — somewhere besides Earth? Is it worth searching for life on Mars or other planets and celestial bodies?

Option 3: Do you want to travel to space?

Have you ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut or working for NASA? Are you fascinated by outer space or space travel? Why do you think so many of us are captivated by space and its mysteries?

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