Starlab Contest

The STEM Center is having a contest to see what students think! We have a brand new StarLab which will allow us to provide amazing new presentations to schools in the area. To celebrate we are asking your students to write a short paper on what they think about an important topic in astronomy.

Image: Wiki Commons

Paper Topic

The topic for the paper was What Experiments Should Be Part of the First Human Mission to Mars? Mars has long been a source of fascination for us Earthlings and missions to map and explore it started in the 1970s with the Soviet Union’s Mars program. The first mission to reach the red planet from Earth was the Mars 2 orbiter and lander in 1971. The first autonomous rover to drive around the surface was NASA’s Sojourner which landed as part of the Mars Pathfinder mission. More recently the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004 and the massive Curiosity rover landed in 2012, all of which transformed our understanding of Mars (and continue to)!

Future missions are planned including India’s Chandrayaan-3, the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin, China’s Chang’e5, and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. What a lot of people are most excited about, however, is the dream of sending humans to Mars. A mission with actual people seems the stuff of science fiction but multiple space agencies and private companies around the world are actively pursuing it. NASA itself has a goal of landing humans on Mars by 2033.

Regardless of when or how humans make it to Mars, the next question becomes what they do there. What experiments are critical to understanding Mars? What questions can we answer about the red planet that can help us to better understand our own planet? What do we need to know before humans can start living on Mars for long periods? These questions are being actively debated and now is your chance to enter that conversation!

This Year’s Winners

This year’s Junior Division Winner was Blanca Serabia, a fifth grader at Worden Elementary. Our Senior Division Winner was Katelyn Sisk, an eighth grader at Central Junior High School in Belleville.

Contest Details

If your school wants to participate in this annual contest, you can have students write individual essays or write a paper as a group. Up to five entries per school can be submitted and we will choose the best ones.

  • Paper Length: One to two pages.
  • Grades: Any students or classes from grades 3rd through 8th are eligible.
  • Submission Deadline: March 13th, 2020
  • Where to Submit: Send to

We will pick one winner from all 3rd – 5th entries and one from all 6th – 8th entries. Papers will be judged on the author’s understanding of Mars and the scientific merits of their argument. Details of the experiments are not required, though inaccuracies or holes in the reasoning will hurt a paper’s chances.