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Author: Nathan Lampson

After studying this concept, learners will know the elements of a mission plan and be able to design their own mission plan. This concept practices scientific inquiry.

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What is a Mission Plan?


A mission plan is used to provide a description for a space mission.  There are a lot of scientists and engineers working on each space mission. Mission plans allow everyone working on a mission to share information.

Parts of a Mission Plan

Once a goal for a mission has been set, the mission planning can begin.  What do we need to carry out the mission? 

For example, if the mission was to obtain a picture of Mars, we might only need a telescope. 

The mission plan describes the goals, equipment, and overview of a space mission.



The goal of the Mars Science Lab (MSL) mission is to answer the question, "Could Mars have supported life?


The Mars Science Laboratory is a mission to Mars that will check for conditions that might have supported microbial life or may be able to support life in the future. To do this, the MSL will send scientific instruments to Mars that can take images, test radiation levels, and examine samples of rock. Sending scientific equipment to Mars will require a lot of equipment for the launch, cruise, landing, and experimental portions of the mission.


Equipment Needed:

Atlas V rocket to send the spacecraft on a trajectory towards Mars


Equipment Needed:

Transmitter to send information back to earth

8 thrusters to correct the trajectory of the spacecraft and keep it on course to land on Mars


Equipment Needed:

Radar to sense the surface of Mars during descent

Parachute to reduce the speed of the spacecraft

Retrorockets for rover descent

Sky Crane to lower the rover to the surface of Mars

Heat Shield to protect the rover from the entry of the Mars atmosphere


Equipment Needed:

Curiosity Rover

10.6lbs of plutonium for the rover's radioactive power source


10 different scientific instruments for sample analysis including:


Mass Spectrometer

Gas Chromatograph





Once a mission has been planned and prepared - it is time to test the equipment.

Once the rover is complete, engineers work to test the Curiosity rover so that it will be able to withstand the harsh conditions of launch, space transit, landing, and Mars.


Testing Curiosity

The Actual Mars Science Lab Mission Plan