Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.

Teachers' Guide

Activity B.1: A Flag for Mars


  • Students will demonstrate understanding of the geographical and political significance of flags by researching and discussing the historical use of flags on Earth, debating ownership issues for interplanetary exploration, and designing a flag for Mars.


  • paper/pencils
  • drawing/construction paper
  • scissors/glue
  • on-line and/or print encyclopedias, and other research sources
  • Mars Mission Logbooks


    Display a variety of flags (U.S., state, school, Girl Scout, etc.). Ask students to identify the group of people which each flag represents. Ask them what is implied when a flag is placed at a location, i.e., the New World, the Moon, the South Pole. How do explorers "stake out" or lay claim to this new territory? Whom do the explorers represent?



    If possible, implement this activity as an interdisciplinary unit, allowing students to integrate cross discipline skills within the context of their "science" unit.

    1. Begin this project by having students research the history of their own flags, either for their city, state, region, province and/or country. Why do people have flags? What do the graphic elements of your flag symbolize? How were they selected? Was there any discussion? Were alternate designs proposed and debated? Who approved the flag? Has the flag changed over time (like the U.S. flag) or has it remained the same?

    2. Ask students to use what they have learned from the Live From Mars Activities. Encourage them to consider shape, colors, symbols, and overall design.

    3. Have students design original Mars flags. Create a bulletin board for displaying student work.

    4. Once students have completed their flags, ask them to write an essay about their design. Younger students may want to write a descriptive essay explaining their decisions about what to include in a flag. Older students might want to write a persuasive essay to convince a global "Earth Explores the Solar System" (EESS!) committee that their particular design should be adopted.

    Remind students that the life of a productive scientist or engineer involves a lot more than number-crunching on a computer: a researcher must be able to write well to convince funding agencies to support his or her future activities. Modern science is increasingly a multi-disciplinary activity, almost inevitably involving language arts and communications skills along with content knowledge and logical thinking skills.


    Have students debate the ownership of planets in the Solar System. Who should govern them? What laws might be needed? How would enforcement be handled? Students might find the Antarctic Treaty, referenced in Live from Antarctica and LFA 2 of interest:

    Review the Student Handout for Activity B.3, Gary Allen's article appearing in Space News. If appropriate for your students' reading and comprehension skills, pass out copies and invite even younger students to discuss the colonization of Mars. (See MultiMedia Resources for relevant literary materials.)

    Have students create their Mars flags using paint program software. Submit for inclusion on the Live From Mars web site.

    Mary Urquhart

    An example of the variety of people involved in studying Mars

    I'm a fifth-year graduate student in the Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences department at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    I went into science because I wanted to understand everything I could about how the natural world works. ...I learned at a very young age that curiosity is a good thing, and that science is a life-long process of learning.

    Between her fourth and fifth years as an undergraduate, Mary had an internship at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, CA and was given the opportunity to be one of the first people to see and work with the images from the Magellan spacecraft.

    ...The idea that a planet could be so similar in mass and size to Earth and yet be so different geologically from Earth was intriguing to me. I found my interest in planetary science reborn and with it a dilemma that would follow me to graduate school...

    I was attending, and eventually leading, field trips to all sorts of wonderful places that have features related to other planets. First was Meteor Crater in Arizona, next was Hawaii to study volcanoes, then Yellowstone National Park to study hydrothermal systems (what I'm now doing research on was an idea born from that trip). In addition, I have led trips to Death Valley, the Mojave Desert and Rocky Mountain National Park. To me, these trips bring into clearer focus the similarities between our planet and its neighbors in a way that just looking at pictures or reading papers never will. If you can't actually go to Venus, Mars, or the Moon, why not do the next best thing?

    Science isn't all in books, it's about discovering new things and looking at the world in new ways. For me, it's also sharing that experience with others.

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