The Scout Report
November 13, 2015 -- Volume 21, Number 44
The landing of the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars on August 6, 2012 was one of history's greatest engineering achievements. In this fall special edition of the Scout Report, we honor all things Martian. Here readers will find lesson plans related to the exploration of Mars, a NOVA special that explores the possibility of humans making the journey to the Red Planet, great science fiction books, inspiring Mars-related poetry and art, and a peek into Roman mythology and the God of War. We hope you find much to ponder here, for as Ridley Scott's recently released film "The Martian" proved, the Red Planet can be riveting indeed.
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A Publication of Internet Scout
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mars Science Laboratory
STEM Lesson Plans: Mars Education
NOVA: Can We Make It to Mars?
ChemCam on Mars
Seven Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars
Open Culture: Aelita: Queen of Mars
Science Fiction Encyclopedia: Mars
Histropedia: Mars in Fiction
100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books set on or about Mars
NPR: How 'The Martian' Became A Science Love Story
Radio Station's 'Attack By Mars' Panics Thousands
Gods, Heroes, and Monsters Curriculum
Mars: Adrift on the Hourglass Sea
The Poetry Foundation: Tracy K. Smith
UCI Exploring the Cosmos: Lecture 19: The Martian Canals Controversy
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This excellent site from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) takes readers on a journey to the Red Planet through an assortment of images, videos, and highly informative data. Readers may like to start with the What's New section, where they will find the latest posts from the Curiosity Rover's explorations of the Red Planet's surface. The Mission tab is also worth a visit as it provides a brief overview of the Mars Science Laboratory's search for microbes as well as a closer look at the Technology, Instruments, and Mission Team behind the Rover. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the site, however, is the Multimedia tab where readers will find stunning Raw Images, an art gallery, Mars in 3D, as well as videos, interactives, and incredible Mosaics. [CNH]
For educators looking for lesson plans about the Red Planet, this resource rich site from NASA and Arizona State University will not disappoint. All lessons meet Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Readers may like to start by perusing About Our Curriculum to understand the background and underlying philosophy of the site. From there, dive into the lessons themselves, which range in subject from conceptual modeling to engineering, and examine such topics as the search for life in our solar system, the ins and outs of rovers on Mars, and the ways in which scientists are currently exploring the surface, soil, geology, air quality, and other details of this "strange new planet." [CNH]
This 53-minute episode of NOVA can be a useful supplement to educators' lesson plans about Mars - or a fascinating introduction for anyone interested by the Red Planet. First aired on August 1, 2012, the beautifully produced episode explores whether it is possible for humans to survive a trip to Mars and back - a destination that could take up to three years to reach. Along the way, astronauts would face runs ins with meteorites, bone and muscle deterioration, and cosmic radiation, among other perils. Over the course of the episode, host Neil Degrasse Tyson interviews leading scientists who are inventing new ways for humans to survive long journeys in space, and who believe that, ultimately, we will find a way to send human beings to other planets. [CNH]
In the past several years, news outlets have come alive with more and more information about the past and present of Mars. The source of much of that fascinating data has been the ChemCam instrument, a suite of remote sensing instruments that have been sending back daily samples from the surface of the Red Planet using two instruments, a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and a remote micro imager (RMI) telescope. An excellent resource for teachers and anyone else fascinated by the geology, soil composition, and the possibilities for life on Mars, this site will provide hours of edification. Readers will find various articles published over the past several years, such as an article from September 2015 that confirmed the presence of ancient lakes. In addition, various tabs offer tremendous information about the Curiosity Rover, the ChemCam, and Mars itself, including the Multimedia tab with its videos and images, and the Education tab, where teachers will find plenty of resources to supplement their lesson plans. [CNH]
This five-minute video produced by NASA dramatizes the landing of the Curiosity Rover on August 6, 2012. The "seven minutes of terror" to which the title refers is the time between the moment the Rover entered the atmosphere of Mars and the moment it touched down on the surface. The video chronicles one of the most complex engineering victories in history, in which a multimillion dollar explorer rocketed toward the surface of a previously unvisited, distant planet at one thousand miles per hour, heating to a temperature of 1,600 degrees celsius, opening a parachute, dropping a heat shield, dropping the parachute, kicking on rockets, dodging the parachute, and landing next to a six-kilometer high mountain. The video, which has been viewed more than two million times, brings the stress and triumph of the mission to life. [CNH]
Aelita: Queen of Mars, shot and released in 1924 by the great Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov, was the first - and some would say the greatest - Russian science fiction film produced. This silent, black-and-white film tells the story of a young man who travels in a rocket ship to Mars and, with the help of Aelita, the queen of the planet, leads a righteous uprising against the ruling elite. On the Open Culture site, readers will find an excellent introduction to the early 20th century classic, as well as links to other, related resources, such as Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis. The film itself, in all its imaginative glory, is also available here. For readers who wish to see an early film treatment of the Red Planet, as well as a piece of art that influenced everything from the 1957 film Road to the Stars to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: Space Odyssey, Aelita: Queen of Mars will be a welcome aesthetic experience. [CNH]
This exemplary entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction provides an erudite overview of the dozens of important works that have taken up Mars as a theme or setting. Here readers will learn how writings about Mars adapted and changed as the scientific understanding of the Red Planet grew. For instance, in the late 19th century Mars was often envisioned as a setting for utopian extraterrestrial societies that were used to critique social structures of class, exploitation, racism, and suppression of women in Europe and the United States. In contrast, by the mid-20th century, many authors imagined Mars as a place to which humans with a greater vision might escape to create their own utopian societies. There were also "planetary romance" stories throughout the 20th century that focused on relationships between humans and various kinds of Martians. More recently, of course, fiction based on Mars has taken a turn toward realism, as exemplified by Andy Wier's The Martian. [CNH]
This engrossing timeline from Histropedia plots dozens of novels, movies, and video games that have been set against a Martian backdrop. Here readers will find everything from the 1993 MS-DOS video game Doom to Zack Snyder's under appreciated, Watchmen, all laid out on a visually pleasing and easily digestible timeline. Double click on any title to get started; a tab will open on the right hand side of the page that features the matching Wikipedia site, as well as corresponding Twitter mentions, Books, TV & Films, Music, and YouTube connections. Histropedia has been lauded by history teachers and many others as "the world's first fully interactive timeline for all of history from the big bang to the present day." This thematic timeline of all things Martian is sure to take its place among other Histropedia classics, such as the timelines for John Lennon albums, the history of science, and the battles of World War I. [CNH]
To benefit from the depth and breadth of Goodreads, the world's largest site of reader and book recommendations, users will need to register for a free account. However, for Scout readers not ready to participate on that level, this list of "100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books set on or about Mars" can still provide a compass to navigate the great ocean of Mars-related fiction in the canon. Here readers will find everything from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds to lesser known gems such as The Martian Race by Gregory Benford. Selecting a title of interest will pull up a record page complete with reviews, discussions, book clubs, and lists of the featured text, providing welcome guidance and inspiration for your next Martian read. [CNH]
In this five-minute news spot from All Things Considered, the NPR team speaks to Andy Wier, author of the Science Fiction thriller The Martian, the source material for the new Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon. Here Wier speaks about how he wrote the book that most Mars experts agree is likely the most scientifically accurate depiction of life on the Red Planet in science fiction history, including depictions of what it would actually take to reestablish communications after being cut off from earth, how a stranded astronaut would really grow food, and, most importantly, all the mathematics that it would take to survive. Wier, a computer programmer by trade, made the first draft of his novel available on his website in order to make sure he was getting his facts straight; he then rewrote the novel according to the feedback he received. Readers interested in both Mars and the writing process will find much to enjoy in this short clip and the corresponding article. [CNH]
When future superstar filmmaker Orson Welles directed and narrated a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel, War of the Worlds, on October 30, 1938, he had no idea that it might create a mass panic around the United States. Featuring 60 minutes of mock broadcasts detailing an invasion of terrifying Martians, the event triggered panic in some areas, and widespread criticism from newspapers around the country. In this video clip, filmed the day after the broadcast, Mr. Welles expresses his apologies - and his surprise - for the apparent panic that the broadcast instigated. Readers with a keen interest in the history of broadcasting will especially appreciate this excellent archival footage of a young Orson Welles speaking with reporters. [CNH]
The J. Paul Getty Museum offers an informative and learned treatment of the use of mythological images in European art, including the God of War, Mars. Readers may like to begin with the introduction on the landing page, which describes the curriculum. From there, they may like to explore the Lesson Plans, each of which focuses on an ancient object housed at the Getty, such as the 2nd Century Greek statue of the great hero Herakles (Roman: Hercules). In addition, the page About Greek and Roman Mythology provides a general introduction to heroes and gods of Greek and Roman mythology, including its place in Ancient and European cultures, as well as more focused sections on the nature and proclivities of heroes (who are mortal but make themselves immortal through their acts) and gods (who are immortal, and may act in extraordinarily human ways). For educators searching for resources to supplement their teaching on Greek and Roman mythology, this site provides useful resources related to the Getty's holdings. [CNH]
"Adrift on the Hourglass Sea," by multimedia artists Nicholas Kahn & Richard Selesnick, is a postmodern narrative that follows two nameless women as they wander in the desolate landscape of the Martian surface. As critic Sarah Falkner interprets in the introduction to her interview with the two artists, the two women "seem to be outside of linear time - perhaps having escaped an Earth catastrophe and landing on Mars to find that its own history includes an apocalypse." After absorbing the stunning tones of the opening image, readers may like to explore further in the Photographs tab, where they may ponder these provocative, mysterious images, as well as the Sculpture & Installation Shots tab, with its corresponding liminal textures. The interview is especially informative, as Kahn and Richards both explain and refuse to explain their work. [CNH]
Tracy K. Smith, graduate of Harvard and Columbia Universities and Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, teaches creative writing at Princeton University. Born in 1972, she was already considered a major American poet before she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for her book of poems, Life on Mars, which the New York Times described as "gorgeous and ecstatic" with an "extraordinary range and ambition." On this page from the Poetry Foundation, readers may read a brief biography of Smith, as well as nine of her beloved poems, including "Duende," "I Don't Miss It," and the much-praised, "Don't You Wonder Sometimes." For readers looking for one of the freshest voices in American letters, this biographical site will challenge and energize. [CNH]
As this illuminating history of the Martian canals controversy notes, when sky gazers began examining the planets through telescopes in the seventeenth century, Mars was a relatively featureless disc compared to the visual dramas of Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. However, as telescopes improved, investigators began to make out various shapes on the surface, which, for years, many claimed were perhaps constructed channels or canals. This excellent site compiled by Dr. Barbara J. Becker of the University of California, Irvine details the development of the idea with drawings, maps, photographs, and a detailed history. Readers may note that this lecture is number 19 of 20 in Becker's course, Exploring the Cosmos; similar lesson plans for the remaining lectures may be found at the bottom of the page. [CNH]
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