As part of the Year 9 subject BYTES, the Mission to Mars elective ran during Term 2. This elective explored the science behind stars, galaxies, planets (especially Mars) and the complexities of space travel. An exciting opportunity at the end of this unit is the excursion to Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) in Strathmore, to take part in a virtual ‘Mission to Mars’. 


On Monday 21 June one of our classes, along with their teacher Ms Johnstone and supporting teacher Mr McMahon participated in the all day excursion at VSSEC. 


The program began with students being fitted for their very own space suits, tools and equipment, and then participated in their very first mission briefing.


Students were then split into two main groups; Viking 1 and Viking 2 and each group was responsible for a particular task for this mission.


Viking 1 took part in the Mission Control activity first; a complex and extremely important task to ensure that the explorers on the surface of Mars were safe, and that all vitals/environmental conditions were optimal. Our McKinnon students were hooked up to headsets and operated the Mission Control computers to input data received from the astronauts on the surface. This was a brilliant way to show the students the intricacies of a profession in space science without even having to leave Earth.


Meanwhile, the students in the Viking 2 group suited up to undertake the perilous role of exploring Mars. The Mars simulator provided by VSSEC allowed our students to undertake real life missions that astronauts would be expected to perform on the surface. Activities such as geothermal exploration, mining, radiation detection and chemical analysis were some of the tasks essential for a successful mission at the surface; all of which were relayed back to the team in Mission Control.


At the end of the day, our students took part in the laboratory component of the workshop which allowed them to take chemical, biological and geological analyses of the samples collected at the surface. This session was incredibly useful to show our students the importance of applying real world science to these missions. Our students got to use very complex equipment such as the UV-Vis spectrophotometer which measures the intensity of light transmitted through a sample (which was collected on ‘Mars’) and VSSEC mapping technology used to pinpoint certain areas of the Martian surface that resources came from. 


Overall this excursion demonstrated to our students the intricacies and complexities of a real life mission to Mars. It was fantastic to see all students so engaged and eager to participate in the many activities offered by VSSEC. The leadership and teamwork demonstrated by our Year 9 students was wonderful to see and I look forward to taking the next round of McKinnon “Mission to Mars” students in Term 4. 


Ms Katherine Johnstone

Science and VCE Biology Teacher