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
Graph paper


  1. Read the introductory paragraph to the students.
  2. Allow sufficient time for the students to complete questions #1 and #2 on the student worksheet. Discuss student results and answers.
  3. Group the students into either pairs or groups of four.
  4. Provide each group with a die. Conduct the simulation and complete the remaining activities.
  5. Discuss the outcome of the simulation, and review possible responses to the remaining exercises.

Key Terminology

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 24 rads.

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 Solar 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 
the IMAGE/POETRYweb site.