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Is a Mars Sample Return Mission Too Risky?

A Public Hearing Case Study


Troy D. Wood
Department of Chemistry
University at Buffalo


Following a public hearing format, this case study allows students to explore the scientific and public policy issues surrounding the advisability of a return mission to Mars for further sampling and, more generally, the question of whether or not there is life on that planet. The case was developed for a non-science majors course called “Great Discoveries in Science” and serves to illustrate the scientific method and the importance of interdisciplinary efforts in scientific research.

  • Examine how the scientific method is used to develop a scientific hypothesis, and how new information is used to reevaluate an existing hypothesis.
  • Illustrate the importance of interdisciplinary efforts in scientific research.
  • Critically evaluate interpretations of experimental data through the labeled release and GC/MS experiments on Viking.
  • Define the criteria needed to establish whether something is living.
  • Raise general awareness of the planned Mars Sample Return Mission.
  • Undertsand how public hearings are used to shape science policy in the United States.
  • Examine cost/benefit analysis and the element of risk in formulating public policy.
  • Develop possible alternatives to the Mars Sample Return Mission as currently planned.
Keywords: Mars; Mars Sample Return Mission; Viking; search for life; space exploration; NASA
Topical Area: Policy issues
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Dilemma/Decision, Public Hearing, Role-Play
Language: English
Subject Headings: Science (General)   Astronomy  
Date Posted: 2/20/02
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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