The first week of spring hols brought a great deal of hammering, creative problem solving, and fast-paced rover racing to the Space Place at Carter Observatory. For three days we led Mars rover building workshops for eager young engineers.
We explored the many ways humans explore the solar system and how rovers can help provide important data to scientists here on Earth. We then looked at rovers that have been sent to Mars, exploring the various parts that help rovers collect this data.
This was an especially exciting week to be talking about Mars as NASA just announced that they have found water on the Red Planet. This sort of discovery would not be possible without the help of rovers and satellites.
In order to create our own rovers we had to think about all the parts that comprise a rover and how we could apply the same principles to our smaller prototype versions. In doing this we discovered some new words to add to our vocabularies.
We also saw both potential and kinetic energy in action. Potential energy is stored energy that has not yet been expended. When we wind up the rubber band energy source on our rovers we are creating potential energy. When we let our rubber bands go we create kinetic energy, which is energy in motion.
We quickly realised designing and building a rover isn’t as easy as it sounds. Over the three days we discovered our rovers needed more than cardboard wheels to traverse the Martian landscape. Wheels need to be thick to provide enough surface area for traction. Real rovers created by NASA have wheels with cleats to help them climb rocks and escape sandtraps on Mars. Cleats were in short supply at the Space Place, so we experimented with creating different types of tread for our wheels using everything from rubber bands to the ridged edges of pie tins.
For some of the days robot testing ran over and we weren’t able to reflect, but if you get the chance ask one of our awesome engineers the following questions:
- What worked well on your rover?
- What could be improved next time?
- What was your biggest challenge when building and testing your rover?