Building a Mars Rover at @Bristol

There can’t be many people who can say that at work today they build a Mars rover! But that’s exactly what I was involved with when I volunteered for a morning at @Bristol science museum in Bristol. Admittedly the ‘rovers’ were remote controlled cars with velcro strips for attaching cameras, batteries and antennae (all plastic but all very good imitations!) but for the children they were aimed at they were perfect! 


Children first got the chance to choose what to attach to their rover. How many cameras would they need? Many initially went for one facing each way but then realized that they would need two pointing in each direction to get any kind of depth perception. Children also had to decide how to power their Rover. Nuclear generators create a lot of power but are expensive and would only last for two years, batteries can store energy but do not last long and too many would be very heavy whereas solar panels can receive energy from the sun but cannot store it. In the end most children decided upon all three! We also had to work out how to transmit any information we picked up back to Earth. Did we want to use a satellite which is very heavy but can transmit data directly to Earth or an antennae which is lighter but can only send information a short distance to a nearby satellite? There were lots of decisions to be made!

After the Rover was filled with numerous plastic models children were given the chance to build their own scoop out of Knex before driving their Rover over Mars! Ok, well it wasn’t quite Mars but a specially made cardboard surface with numerous rocks made a very good alternative. As the Rovers bumped into cones, rock samples were knocked off into the children’s scoops. It was all very clever!

The final step was to analyse the rocks. Were they smooth? If they were this could provide strong evidence that they had once been surrounded by water. Also, if they fizzed when nutrients was added to them we could determine that there may well be life forms within the rock. Children were able to complete all experiments themselves before deciding whether they thought there was life on Mars based on the evidence they had collected. The general consensus was that it is possible but further tests are needed. 

I had a brilliant time the day I went to @Bristol and I know lots of children did too! If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Mars Lab exhibit at @Bristol then make sure you get down there as soon as possible as the exhibit closes on the 14th October. Visit http://www.at-bristol.org.uk/ to find out more.