Solar Storms and You!
Activity 19 : Planning a Trip to Mars
In the 21st century, NASA is planning a mission to Mars. You and a group
of your peers are about to set off on this mission. The trip will take
240 days to get to Mars. Once there, you will explore the surface for fossils
for three years. The return trip to Earth will take another 240 days. A
concern exists for how the crew will be protected from radiation over-exposure
during the 4 year expedition in space. You will assume during your trip
that your shielding is the same as NASA uses on the Space Shuttle.
Students will calculate the cumulative radiation dosage for a trip to Mars,
and participate in a probability based exposure simulation.
Student worksheets: Part 1, Part
2 and Part 3
Teacher's Answer Keys: Part 1, Part
2 and Part 3
Read the introductory paragraph to the students.
Allow sufficient time for the students to complete questions #1 and #2
on the student worksheet. Discuss student results and answers.
Group the students into either pairs or groups of four.
Provide each group with a die. Conduct the simulation and complete the
Discuss the outcome of the simulation, and review possible responses to
the remaining exercises.
SPE: Solar Proton event is an unpredictable, major burst of high
energy particles from the Sun which take less than 20 minutes to reach
the orbit of the Earth.
RAD: The rate at which you receive radiation dosage per unit
time. A total dose of 600 rads of 'whole body' exposure is nearly 100 percent
lethal. A single chest x-ray is worth 0.70 rads.
REM: A unit of total dosage that a person receives. Note: 1 Rem
= 1 Rad/day x 1 day. Natural background radiation is about 0.350 rem per
year. In a human lifetime of 70 years, this equals a cumulative dose of
For a possible extension
Have the students use the graph created in the first activity, "The Sunspot
Cycle", to determine when would be the best opportunities in the next century
to leave for this trip.
Related Web Resources
Visit the IMAGE/POETRY
Storms:Hidden Menace article written by Dr. Odenwald to learn more about
how solar storms affect our technology.
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This activity was developed by the NASA, IMAGE/POETRY
Teacher and Student Consortium.
For more information, and a list of other resources, visit