Build A Mars Colony

Your children are in charge of planning for a Mars Colony. Their mission? To insure the colony's success by bringing along enough supplies and tools to create a self-sufficient outpost of human civilization. The mission can be a group or classroom effort, or a family activity. This activity has the makings of a world-class science project.

As a kid, I used to spend countless hours sketching plans for my own Mars Colony. Part of the attraction was healthy escapism -- I was in charge and my folks were on another world. Literally.  But the part of the ongoing daydream I found most intriguing was the problem of creating a viable and independent world. I remember showing my plans to a science teacher, who looked them over and offered encouraging praise before asking a simple deadly question: "Doesn't anyone in this place ever go to the bathroom?"

I gasped! My complex plan with hundreds of rooms had everything -- except a single bathroom. Oh, well -- back to the drawing board.

Staying Alive
Think of traveling to Mars as going camping with the nearest store several million miles away. If you didn't bring it, and can't make it, you'll have to do without. To prosper, your Mars Colony will need to "solve" the problems listed below (more or less in order of importance).

  1. Air Supply -- If you run out, you're in big trouble.
  2. Water Supply -- Where is the next drink of water going to come from?
  3. Food Production -- Will you grow your own, or live on freeze-dried Big Macs?
  4. Waste Management -- Recycling is key and nothing can be wasted.
  5. Heating and Cooling -- How does the colony keep from freezing to death?
  6. Energy -- Will you rely on solar, atomic, or wind energy, or on something else?
  7. Living Quarters -- Above ground or below the surface?
  8. Factories -- How do you make the thing you need?
  9. Transportation -- How are you going to get around on Mars? Walk, fly, or drive?
  10. Communication -- How will you stay in touch with the folks at home?
  11. Laws and Government -- Who's in charge?
  12. Recreation Areas -- All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Build It on Paper
Kids are capable of creating complex and thoughtful designs with little more than a pen, pencil, graph paper, and imagination. It's not absolutely necessary to understand every detail of a system's operation to incorporate it into your colony's plan. A waste recycling center could be as simple as a box labeled "Waste Conversion," or it could contain detailed plans for filtration beds, atmospheric CO2 scrubbers, and the works. A side benefit of this process is that kids begin to learn the basics of blueprint and map reading.

Your child may draw on many sheets of paper before he arrives at a design he's happy with. A pair of scissors and a little glue could save a lot of time. My Mars Colony had so many cut and pasted buildings it looked like a ransom note.

Build It in 3-D
A rough scale model of the colony can be built using found objects ranging from blocks, cardboard, and Lego pieces, to recycled plastic soda bottles and plastic cake and pie covers for domes. As in any project involving imagination and discovery, the sky is literally the limit.

Welcome to Mars!


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