Grade 3-5

Destination: Mars

Updated: August 6 2015,
Author: Abbejean Kehler

Look up! Can you ever imagine standing on another planet and looking down at earth? We’ve been to the moon – now lets launch an expedition to Mars. Imagine all the preparation you will have to go through in order to have a safe and successful mission! You must decide what you should take, how you will prepare yourself and carefully think through each and every choice – once you lift off, you are on your own!


spaceshipHave your students ever thought what it would be like if they lived in outer space? Have them think about what types of things they will need to survive in space. Will they be similar to what they need to survive on earth or different?

It is quite possible that some of the young children sitting in the classroom today will not be living on Earth tomorrow. But, even if they slip the bonds of Earth’s gravity, they will not leave scarcity, choices, opportunity costs, money or resources behind. There will be a continued need to develop human capital though education, good health, exercise, motivation and healthy work attitudes.

It is nearly impossible to predict: what jobs will be in demand, which skills most needed, what entrepreneurial opportunities will exist, or what resources will be necessary to sustain life in space. Once students recognize that such uncertainties present both challenges and opportunities, the importance of education will become even clearer to them.

By building a strong foundation of critical thinking and economic reasoning, we are helping all students to reach for the stars, whether they will be living in space or here on Earth. Teachers are in the best position to nurture those dreams. In the words of Christa McAuliffe "I touch the future, I teach."

Learning Objectives

  • Select resources that would be useful for space travel.
  • Identify scarcity as a problem for space exploration.
  • Work cooperatively in groups to reach decisions.
  • Recognize that scarcity exists in many situations and as a result they must make choices.
  • Experience the outcome of their choices and recognize that setting criteria can improve their chances for success.

Resource List


  1. Prepare enough "Cargo Lists" so that each group of 3-4 students will have one.
  2. Divide the students into groups, and tell them that each group represents a country. Ask each group to name its country and elect a leader, a secretary (records the group’s final choices) and a reporter (reports to the class the group's selections and the reasons for those selections). Briefly discuss how students might define and set criteria for making their decisions about what items to select, be sure and point out the opportunity costs of their choices.
  3. Scenario – share with students the following guidelines along with an extra "Cargo List":
  4. boy in space
    Each country will be entering a "space race": a race to see whose spacecraft will be the first to reach the planet Mars. In this lesson the countries will prepare for their trip.

    During their quest the space travelers will experience a condition called scarcity. Explain that scarcity is the condition in which people are not able to have all of the goods and services that they want. Because of scarcity, people are required to make choices about using productive resources to satisfy their wants. In this case, space on the ship is extremely limited, you will be selecting additional items to take aboard. Some of the items will be of greater use than others. Consider each carefully by developing criteria which can assist in making your choice. Some choices will have greater payoffs than others. It is up to the student to determine what items are more important for their survival.

    Wants are satisfied by consuming goods and services: goods an services are made with productive resources.

    Productive resources include natural (land), human (labor), capital and entrepreneurial resources (entrepreneurship).

    Space program coordinators have determined the supplies that they believe are necessary for this trip and have already put them aboard the spacecraft. However,a small amount of space remains and the countries may have additional cargo they wish to include. This cargo can be used to satisfy other wants of the astronauts. These wants are economic wants, which are desires that can be satisfied by consuming a good or a service.

    Due to the limited space in the module (cargo space is scarce), the astronauts will be allowed to choose only 10 additional items to take along.

    boy in space

  5. Assemble the students in their groups and cut out one set of the "Game Cards". Shuffle the cards and lay them face down on a desk in front of the room. Then have each Leader step forward, select a card and read it aloud. Each team that has the item will be able to add the points on the card. If not, each team without the item will deduct the points. You may conclude the game by which ever team reaches the highest number of points after all cards are read, or by returning cards to the deck and randomly selecting cards until a team reaches 100 points.


Many students dream of going into space and exploring. It is a highly competitive career field. Whether they may find themselves in the outer space of Mars or elsewhere, however, they will need to take along knowledge and skills for use in making decisions.(By having the students review the biographies of Glenn and Ride. Bring students together for a concluding discussion, possible questions.)

  1. When they loaded their module did they feel they had chosen well the extra cargo?
  2. Were there other teams that receive higher points in the end? Discuss why that occurred.
  3. Elicit from the students what Sally Ride and John Glenn had to do to become astronauts?
  4. Were there activities and choices they had to make? What did they possibly give up in order to become astronauts?
  5. Have each student write a short paragraph about what opportunity costs are incurred in order to fly in space.

Extension Activity

In order to be an astronaut, individuals must prepare themselves – education is one of the most important components.


The students can write a letter to a favorite astronaut or create a postcard. On one side the postcard should show a picture of a rocket ship, astronaut or some other space related item – on the back side the students should write about that item to a friend or family member.

Using the and ask students to develop a letter to the space station astronauts that asks the astronauts to prioritize a list of resources (similar to the game) that students suggest. Students will be following up the game with a decision-making activity (complete with the grid) where they rank a list of 10 items (students can obtain these from the ) that might be needed in the space station.