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Is a Mars Sample Return Mission too Risky?: A Public Hearing Case Study
These are the teaching notes for a case study in which students 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 designed to illustrate the importance of interdisciplinary efforts in scientific research, define the criteria needed to establish whether something is living, raise general awareness of the planned Mars Sample Return Mission, and examine how the scientific method is used to develop a scientific hypothesis. It also serves to critically evaluate interpretations of experimental data and show how different people draw different conclusions from the same data. Other objectives of the activity are to provide an understanding of 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, and promote critical thinking for development of possible alternatives to the Mars Sample Return Mission.
Intended for grade levels:
  • High (9-12)
  • College (13-14)
Type of resource:
  • For the classroom:
    • Classroom activity
    • Case study
    • Guide for instructor
  • Policy issues
  • Space science
Technical requirements:
No specific technical requirements, just a browser required
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
Copyright 1999-2005 by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Copyright for most of the cases on our web site is held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. We encourage educational, not-for-profit use of our cases by individal instructors. If you plan to use one of our cases in your classroom on this basis, you do not need to contact us for permission. Reproduction of a case in our collection in a printed work, such as a course-pack, requires permission, as does republication of any of our cases on a website. We strictly control access to the teaching notes for our cases. Re-publication of any kind, in whole or in part (especially of answer keys), is strictly prohibited. The only allowable use of our notes and answer keys is by individual teachers who may print or download a single copy of these materials to prepare for use of a case in their classrooms. Website reproduction of our notes and answer keys is prohibited in all instances. Any exception to these guidelines requires prior written approval. Commercial use of these cases or teaching notes is not authorized without our express written permission.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-008-595
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 9-12:
      • A - Science as inquiry:
        • Understandings about scientific inquiry
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Origin and evolution of the universe
      • E - Science and technology:
        • Understandings about science and technology
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Sci. / tech. in local, national, and global challenges
Related resources:
This resource requires
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Author: Troy D. Wood
Department of Chemistry
State University of New York at Buffalo

Publisher: State University of New York at Buffalo
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science