Comprehension Activities

It’s the same colour as our red Australian dirt… it could hold clues to life itself… and one of YOU might be the first human to go there. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Mars—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

In a previous Squiz Kids Shortcut, we talked about the Space Race, and how different countries, as well as individual billionaires, are trying to be the first to land a human on Mars.

Today, we’ll take you through where exactly Mars is; why people want to go to Mars so badly; and what the Negev desert in Israel has to do with it.
Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

In the simplest terms, Bryce, Mars is the fourth planet from our solar system’s sun, and we’re the third.

So is it the closest planet to us?

That depends. Planets don’t orbit the Sun in perfect circles, so their distance from each other is always changing. Very occasionally, Mars is the closest planet to us, but that won’t happen again until the year 2287. Usually, it’s between 56 million and 400 million kilometres away from Earth.

Yikes! That’s far!
Space is big, Bryce. As far as it is from us, though, Mars is visible to the naked eye from Earth. And it’s often called the Red Planet, because there’s a lot of iron oxide on its surface. That’s the same stuff that makes so much of the Australian outback a reddish colour.

So even though the Red Planet is so far away, it has something in common with Earth.

Actually, it has quite a lot in common. There are valleys, deserts, and ice caps at the planet’s poles, just like Earth. And the length of its days and seasons is also similar, because Mars rotates at a similar rate to Earth.

Amanda, I remember in our Space Race podcast—which I highly recommend people have a listen to, if they haven’t checked it out already—we talked about how China and the United States are in a real race to get humans landing on Mars.

That’s right, and Space X/Tesla billionaire Elon Musk is determined to get humans actually living on Mars …

Here’s a question. The average temperature on Mars is minus 62 degrees celsius. There are frequent, fierce windstorms. And there’s no flowing water. Why on Earth… I mean, why on Mars… would anyone want to go there?


Not only that, but it’d take months to get to Mars, cramped into a spacecraft the size of a medium SUV; there’s no view of home, like there is from the moon; and if you want to talk to your family, there’d be a delay of 45 minutes between each thing you said.

So… why????

Well, the first answer is pretty simple … it’s because it’s a cracking good adventure.

Like the famous explorers from history .. Marco Polo heading east, or Christopher Columbus heading west, people are excited to explore the unknown.

And not knowing exactly what you’ll find, and encountering serious challenges along the way… for an explorer, that’s part of the appeal.

Okay, I understand that. What else?

Well, for most of the time humans have existed, we’ve thought that life was only possible on our planet. But now, scientists are exploring Mars with rovers and will be analysing rock samples for evidence of past microscopic life, back when there was more water on Mars. Not only is it a big deal if there were ever life on Mars, it would also make it likely that there is more life to be found in the universe.

That is exciting!

The next reason that people give for going to Mars is that we would develop important new technologies that would be useful on earth, too.

Like what?

There are lots of really complicated examples, but one simple one is that we’d develop the ability to communicate much faster over long distances.

Okay, so adventure, understanding life in the universe, developing technology… are they the three main reasons?

I’d say there are two more. One is that travel to Mars could allow humans to begin space mining. Many objects around our solar system are made of similar minerals and chemicals to Earth, which means that some asteroids, moons, and planets could be rich in things that are rare on Earth. We could figure out how to mine them—safely and responsibly, of course—and bring them back to Earth.

I wonder if Minecraft has a space mod…

Mojang is one step ahead of you, Bryce. There are quite a few space mods! Okay, the final reason is an interesting one. Some experts believe that space programs like Elon Musk’s, which also take rich people on little holidays to space, could really help things on Earth.

How’s that?

Well, lots of astronauts have said that going to space and looking down on Earth has made them appreciate how special it is – and so the hope is that people with lots of money will have the same experience, and come back wanting to help the world work together to solve problems we have on our planet.

Kind of like how traveling to new places helps us to see the world differently… I get it. So there are lots of people who want to go to Mars, and are preparing to do it. WHAT does the Negev Desert, in Israel, have to do with it?


Alright Bryce, picture this… you wake up in the morning, and look out a tiny window onto a rocky, red landscape. If you want to go outside, you have to put on a 50kg suit. Otherwise, you’re stuck inside a small space with six other people, and if you want to talk to your kids, there’ll be a ten minute delay between when they speak, and you hear them.

Am I on Mars??

Actually, you’re in the most modern, complex Mars simulation station on this planet. It’s in the Ramon Crater, in the middle of the Negev Desert in Israel, and in 2021, six scientists spent three weeks inside the station, behaving as they would if they were on Mars and doing more than 25 research experiments on behalf of 200 scientists from around the world.

What was it like for them?

The Ramonauts – because they’re in the Ramon Crater, get it – said that they felt pretty isolated, even though they knew they were still on Earth. I’m guessing that those delayed communications had a lot to do with it. But they got a lot done! One of the most important things they tested were those 50kg spacesuits, which took two hours to put on.

Six people stuck inside a small space for four weeks… that could be hard if you didn’t all get along.
Absolutely! If you want to be an astronaut, you have to pass a personality test, and when we’re talking about an extreme trip like Mars, it’s even more important to select people with exceptional teamwork skills.

Amanda, one of the Ramonauts who recently came out of the Mars simulation said they were sure that the first person to walk on Mars had already been born… and was probably in a primary school classroom somewhere in the world.

It’s incredible to imagine, isn’t it?


This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. How long would it take to get to Mars: Days, weeks, or months? ”
2. Which video game is connected to one reason that humans want to go to Mars?
3. In which country’s desert is the Mars Simulation Station?