Mars: Curiosity to Barsoom


  Kids Discover has a terrific infographic detailing the NASA Curiosity rover’s spectacular “seven minutes of terror” landing in the Gale Crater on Mars.
  National Geographic has information, images, and video clips on the 2012 Curiosity rover landing on Mars. Included at the site is a downloadable ebook by Marc Kaufman, Mars Landing 2012.
  Rebrickable has free DIY instructions for building your own LEGO model Curiosity Rover.


  Fly Me to Mars (ProStar Publications, 2007) by Catherine Weitz, a geologist at the Planetary Science Institute, is a picture-book “visit” to Mars, covering major Martian features – tallest volcano, largest canyon, chilly polar regions, and two potato-shaped moons – and showing how Mars compares to Earth. For ages 3-7.
  In Franklyn M. Branley’s chatty Mission to Mars (HarperCollins, 2002) in the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series, astronauts from the International Space Station establish a base on Mars, cope with such Martian challenges as dust, cold, and low gravity, and explore their surroundings. The book is illustrated with drawings and photographs; included is a great map of named Mars rocks (among them Warthog, Turtle, Barnacle Bill, Dragon, and Flipper). For ages 4-8.
  Seymour Simon’s Destination Mars (HarperCollins, 2004), spectacularly illustrated with maps, diagrams, and full-page color photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Orbiter Camera, and the Pathfinder lander, is an excellent introduction to the history and science of the planet for ages 5-8.
  Patrick O’Brien’s You Are the First Kid on Mars (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) stars a little boy in an orange space suit traveling to Mars via space elevator, space station, and Nuclear Thermal Rocket (which last travels at a thrilling 75,000 miles per hour), and finally arriving at a Martian colony populated by scientists and engineers. The book is illustrated with wonderful photorealistic paintings, peppered with interesting facts, and written in the second person, which gives the text a feel of you-are-there immediacy. For ages 5-8.
  Alexandra Sly’s Cars on Mars (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2011) is the story of Spirit and Opportunity, the two golf-cart-sized rovers sent to Mars in 2003 and still gamely transmitting data. To date, they’ve sent home over 200,000 photographs, the most famous of which indicated the presence of water on the planet. The book is filled with intriguing and catchily presented information  – for example, the cruising speed of the rovers is “ten times slower than that of a wood turtle” – and illustrations include great color photographs of the Martian surface. For ages 9 and up.
  In the Scientist in the Field series, Steven Squyres’s The Mighty Mars Rovers (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012) is the story of Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity (“the greatest space robot adventure of all time”), told by the lead scientist on the mission. For ages 10 and up.
  Elaine Scott’s Mars and the Search for Life (Clarion Books, 2008) is an attractively presented history of speculations about and explorations of the planet Mars, from Percival Lowell’s apocryphal canals and Orson Welles’s panic-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast through the Mariner flybys, Viking landers, and Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Sidebars provide interesting facts and supplementary explanations. The book is illustrated with photos, drawings, and diagrams. For ages 10-14.
  From Astrobiology magazine, Tracing the Canals of Mars is short illustrated account of Percival Lowell’s (mistaken) sightings of “canals” on the Martian surface.
  From NASA Science News, learn the truth about the famous giant Face on Mars at Unmasking the Face on Mars.
  The Search for Life on Mars is an annotated photo timeline extending from Percival Lowell’s sighting of Martian “canals” in the 1880s to the 2012 Curiosity rover.
  In Robert Zubrin’s How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet (Three Rivers Press, 2008), the Martian narrator – born there in 2071 – provides hopeful immigrants with helpful hints and lots of information. Chapters include “How to Choose a Spacesuit,” “How to Choose Your First Ground Rover,” and “How to Stay Alive in the Desert.” Factual and fun. For teenagers and adults.
  Robert Zubrin’s The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Free Press, 2011) argues convincingly for Mars colonization. For older teenagers and adults.
  From the Symphony of Science musical video series, see Robert Zubrin, Carl Sagan, and others in The Case for Mars.
  William K. Hartmann’s A Traveler’s Guide to Mars (Workman Publishing, 2003) is just what you’d stuff in your spacepack if you were a Mars-bound tourist. The history and geography of Mars, in detail, illustrated with photographs. For teenagers and adults.
  As a child, Mary Roach would certainly have sympathized with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona who – in Ramona the Pest (HarperCollins, 1992) – upsets her kindergarten class by demanding to know how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom.  It’s just such details that propel Roach’s scientific tell-all books, among them Packing for Mars (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), which deals with the biology, psychology, and technology of space travel. Find out about sex, baths, and bathroom behavior in space. For older teenagers and adults.
  Learn all about Mars with many cool links at the Nine Planets website.
  Mars Rising is a six-part documentary about a manned mission to Mars, including interviews with experts and film footage from such Mars-like Earth locations as Chile’s bone-dry Atacama Desert and the Arctic’s Devon Island. The website has an episode guide and interactive activities.
  Return to Mars from the San Francisco Exploratorium has webcasts on the Mars missions, activities for kids, informational articles, and a video archive.
  From the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Exploring the Planets: Mars has historical info, up-to-date data on Mars and its moons, and a large database of Martian images.
  Mars: The International Journal of Mars Science and Exploration has scholarly papers and online data for seriously committed Mars students.


  The Mars Exploration Program website has a wealth of Mars-based information, including updates and images from the Curiosity rover, help for finding Mars in the night sky, downloadable curriculum materials, lesson plans for a range of ages, and hands-on projects and activities. One feature: a “Be a Martian” virtual exploration of the planet.
  Arizona State University’s Mars Education Program has detailed information, lesson plans, activities, and collaborative student-scientist projects for a range of ages.
See Mars Activities for an excellent downloadable 128-page booklet of projects, games, and activities for grades K-12. Included are background information, instructions, and extension suggestions for 24 different activities, among them Rover Races, Volcano Mapping and Lava Layering, Searching for Life on Mars, Edible Mars Rover, and Mars Meteorites’ Fingerprints.
  Athena: Mars Exploration Rovers has Mars facts and images, a “Did You Know?” archive for kids, information on the Marsdial – the sundial carried by the rovers – and instructions for building and experimenting with sundials of your own, and a list of creative Mars-themed lesson plans.
  From Discovery Education, The Path to Mars has projects, discussion questions, and extension activities on Mars exploration for grades K-5. A similar lesson plan, Destination Mars, is targeted at grades 6-8.
  From the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Mars Inside and Out has background information, a book list, and multi-part activities for kids ages 8-13. For example, kids model a Martian landscape and create a Martian board game.
  Mars, of course, is named for the Roman god of war. Learn all about Mars and his Greek alter-ego, Ares, from history teacher Mr. Donn.
  Rovers on Mars is a science- and math-based lesson plan for high-school-level students. Included at the website are student handouts, teacher keys, informational links, and an Online Newshour transcript of a report on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


  In Chris Gall’s There’s Nothing to Do on Mars (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008), Davey Martin’s parents have moved to Mars and Davey shares the plight of all bored kids: “There’s nothing to do!” His parents send him and his robot dog, Polaris, out to play, but nothing solves the problem – not the mysterious giant face, the peculiar fossils, or the hordes of leaping pop-eyed Martians (smelly from lack of baths). Finally Davey and dog dig for buried treasure on top of Olympus Mons and unleash a massive eruption of water. This exciting find causes more and more people to move to Mars – and at the end of the book, Davey’s parents, feeling cramped, are considering a relocation to Saturn. The illustrations have a bright retro-comic-book look. (Polaris is particularly adorable.) A Kirkus Best Children’s Book of the Year. For ages 5-8.
  In Walter R. Brooks’s Freddy and the Men from Mars (Overlook Juvenile Books, 2011), the local newspaper reports that six little creatures with red whiskers, believed to be visiting Martians, have been captured by Mr. Herbert Garble, and are now on display at the Boomschmidt Circus. Freddy, the never-at-a-loss pig, rightly suspects a hoax, and prepares, with help from the Animal Bureau of Investigation, to track down the culprit. A lot of hilarious Freddy-esque confusion and complications ensue, including the arrival of real (pear-shaped, three-eyed) Martians. For ages 8 and up.
  In a sequel, Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (Overlook Juvenile, 2011), the (real) Martians have stayed on Earth with the Boomschmidt Circus, but one of them has been kidnapped. As Freddy and friends attempt to track the kidnapper, Mr. Boom decides to attract more people to the circus by having the Martians form a baseball team.
  For synopses of the 24 Freddy books, information on Freddy and Walter R. Brooks, a selection of poems by Freddy, and to become an official “Friend of Freddy,” see Freddy the Pig’s home page.
  The main character of Daniel Manus Pinkwater’s Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, originally published in 1979, is pudgy Leonard Neeble who is being tormented at school. His only friend is Alan Mendelsohn, a new kid ostensibly from the Bronx, who claims to be a Martian. The zany classic-Pinkwater plot involves a child psychologist who encourages Leonard to smoke cigars; Samuel Klugarsh, occult bookstore owner, who offers courses in Klugarsh Mind Control and Hyperstellar Archaeology; Clarence Yojimbo (from Venus), traveling with a biker gang visiting the Bermuda Triangle Chili Parlor; and Waka-Waka, an alternative plane of existence. Alan, in case you’re wondering, really is a Martian. The book is no longer available in a single edition, but can be found in Pinkwater’s collected 5 Novels (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997). For ages 9 and up.
  For fans of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, A Wizard of Mars (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2010), has teenage wizards Nita and Kit investigating a message in a mysterious Martian artifact and re-opening an ancient conflict on that long-dormant world. This is Book Nine in the series; readers might want to work up to it by way of the first eight. (Book One: So You Want to Be a Wizard.) For ages 11 and up.
  Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (Simon & Schuster, 2012), originally published in 1950, is a collection of linked short stories that comprise a chronological “future history” covering the exploration of Mars, colonization of the planet by humans fleeing a war-torn Earth, and conflicts with the native Martians. There are 28 stories in all, among them “Rocket Summer,” “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” “The Fire Balloons,” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” For ages 13 and up.
  The Martian Chronicles is a detailed study guide to accompany the book from Washington State University.
  The Martian Chronicles was made into a five-hour TV miniseries in 1980, with Rock Hudson and Gayle Hunnicutt. It’s now available on DVD (2004). About $9 from
  There’s a digital copy of The Martian Chronicles on the planet Mars – it was delivered to the Martian North Pole by NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft in 2007. Read about it here
  Edgar Rice Burroughs, though better known for his Tarzan series, also produced, in the first half of the 20th century, eleven novels featuring Barsoom – the planet we know as Mars. The books star Civil War veteran John Carter, originally transported to Barsoom from a cave in the American Southwest. In the first book of the series, A Princess of Mars, he encounters the various races (four-armed green Martians, humanoid red Martians) and creatures (six-legged thoats) of Mars, becomes embroiled in war, wins the hand of the Martian princess Dejah Thoris, and finally – after a catastrophic failure of the planet’s Atmosphere Plant – collapses of asphyxiation and wakes up back on Earth. For a complete list of the books in order, see The Barsoom Glossary. Modern editions (Del Rey, 1985) are available through bookstores and from Amazon
  Texts of the first five Barsoom novels are available for free online.
  The recent movie version of Burroughs’s Barsoom, Disney’s John Carter (2012), stars Taylor Kitsch as Carter and Lynne Collins as Dejah Thoris, with a supporting cast of 12-foot-tall four-armed Martians. Now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, or as an Amazon Instant Video. Rated PG-13.
  Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein wrote several books set on (or related to) Mars. Specifically targeted at young readers is Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars (Ace Trade Books, 2010), in which teenager Podkayne Fries and her brilliant but annoyingly mischievous younger brother, Clark, set off with their uncle on a spaceliner cruise to Earth. During a stopover on Venus, Clark is kidnapped and it turns out that the uncle is on a dangerous diplomatic mission. For ages 12 and up.
  In Heinlein’s Red Planet (Del Rey, 2006), main characters Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton, along with Jim’s volleyball-sized fuzzy Martian pet, Willis, have just started the school year at the Lowell Academy boarding school. When the school headmaster, Mr. Howe, and the colonial administrator of Mars, Mr. Beecher, confiscate Willis and plan to sell him to a London zoo – and to block the annual migration of the Martian colonists during the winter months, in a move to save money – Jim, Frank, and Willis run away to sound the alarm. Eventually they take part in a battle in which the colonists defeat the restrictive administration and declare independence from Earth. They also help forge bonds between the native Martians and the colonists, largely through Jim’s close friendship with Willis. For ages 12 and up.
  C.S. Lewis, famed for the world of Narnia, accessible through the back wall of a wardrobe, also wrote science fiction. In Out of the Silent Planet (HarperCollins, 2005), originally published in 1938, Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge professor of philology, is kidnapped by the criminals Weston and Devine and taken by spaceship to Malacandra, the planet we know as Mars. There he escapes; makes friends with the local inhabitants, the hrossa – his linguistic skills come in handy here; is introduced to the nearly invisible spirit-like eldil; and meets Oyarsa, the great eldil who rules the planet. From Oyarsa, he learns that there is such an eldil for each of the four planets that have life, but Earth’s has turned evil and “bent” – thus Earth is known as Thulcandra, the “Silent Planet.”
  Sequels are Perelandra, a version of the Adam and Eve story, set on Venus, and That Hideous Strength, in which the conflict between good and evil continues on Earth. Complex and discussion-provoking. For ages 14 and up.
  In Ben Bova’s 500+-page Mars (Bantam Spectra, 1993), Jamie Waterman, a Navajo geologist, is the last person to join the first manned expedition to Mars. The book is crammed with detail, human interest, intrigue, and adventure. (Try lethal meteor showers and mysterious cliff cities.) For older teenagers and adults.
  Is Ben Bova’s Mars based on hard science? Check it out – it’s interesting – here
  From SciFan (“books & links for the science fiction fan”), the Mars in Science Fiction Bibliography is an annotated alphabetized list of dozens of Mars-based titles.


  In H.G. Wells’s classic The War of the Worlds, originally published in 1898, Martians in Tripods (three-legged fighting machines) invade and devastate southern England, before succumbing to Earth bacteria. Available in many editions including War of the Worlds (New York Review of Books, 2005), illustrated by Edward Gorey, and an abridged Great Classics Illustrated version for ages 7-9. (Great Illustrated Classics has a complete list of available titles.)
  The complete text of War of the Worlds is available online
War of the Worlds is available as a free downloadable audiobook from LibriVox.
From Washington State University, War of the Worlds is a detailed study guide to accompany the book.
  War of the Worlds Invasion has information, articles, book lists, links, and a timeline pertaining to the H.G. Wells book and the Orson Welles radio broadcast that set off a panic in 1938.
To listen to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, visit Mercury Theatre on the Air or Our Media: The War of the Worlds
  In Virginia Hamilton’s Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed (Aladdin Books, 1989), Willie Bea’s extended family is caught up in the hysteria that surrounds Orson Welles’s scarily realistic broadcast of The War of the Worlds. For ages 9 and up.
  Howard Koch’s The Panic Broadcast (Avon Books, 1973) is a complete account of Orson Welles’s famous radio show, by the man who wrote the radio play version of War of the Worlds. Koch details events before, during, and after the broadcast, and describes his trip to Grover’s Mill, NJ, where the action (supposedly) took place. The book is out of print, but inexpensive used copies are available. For teenagers and adults.
  Robert Rankin’s The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions (Gollancz, 2011) is a zany comedic sequel to War of the Worlds, set in 1895, ten years post-invasion, by which time Victorian England, after a clever feat of back-engineering, has expanded its empire to Mars. Characters include Charles Darwin, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Nikola Tesla, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler, as well as the unfortunate showman Professor Coffin, whose audience has lost interest in his pickled Martian specimen – necessitating a search for the Devil Fish Girl. For quirky teenagers and adults. (Rankin, incidentally, is also the author of The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.)
  Movie versions of War of the Worlds include a black-and-white 1953 adaptation with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, and a 2005 PG-13-rated adaptation, starring Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, and an extremely shrill Dakota Fanning. In both cases, the book is better.
For more Mars-based movies, of which there are many of widely varying quality, see Best Movies Set on Mars  and/or the Mars Movie Guide.


  In Glory St. John’s How to Count Like a Martian (Random House, 1975), a mysterious beeping signal from Mars leads to a discussion of number systems used on Earth, among them Babylonian, Egyptian, Mayan, Greek, Chinese, and Arabic. The (four-fingered?) Martians apparently count in base 4. For ages 8-12. It’s out of print, but definitely worth tracking down. Check your local library.
  Inner Planet Math has printable sheets of planet-based word problems for elementary-level students.
  Space Math @ NASA is a collection of math problems featuring planetary topics for a range of age groups. At “Launch of the Mars Science Laboratory,” for example, kids use a sequence of launch images to determine launch speed and acceleration.
  The Geometry in Space Project is an investigation of orbits – including that of Mars – for high-school-level students.
  Everyone makes mistakes. Wired magazine’s This Day in Tech  has an account of the fatal metric conversion error that resulted in the 1999 loss of NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter.
  Find out how much you’d weigh on Mars (and all the other planets) with this interactive calculator from the San Francisco Exploratorium.


  Kids’ Art Project on the Planet Mars has instructions for making a papier mache planet and a solar system mobile, and designing a Martian city. Also see Make a Planet Mars out of Papier Mache.
  The Mars Art Gallery has abstract art pertaining to Mars, photographic images (categorized in Orbital, Crater, Moon, and Surface Galleries), and resource links. Check out the Andy-Warhol-style Face on Mars.
  From Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” listen to the first movement – Mars, the Bringer of War – performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
  Let’s put on a play! In Victoria Twead’s Morgan and the Martians (, 2012), mischief-making Morgan is given a Shimmer Suit by visiting Martians that makes him invisible. He promptly uses it with disastrous results. For an expanding cast of Earthlings and Martians, ages 8-12 (or so).


  Douglas Florian’s Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007) is a fun collection of space-themed poems and paintings, including one about the planet Mars. A “Galactic Glossary” provides brief background info on each poem. For ages 4-10.
  Stephen Whiteside’s poem for children, Dad Meets the Martians involves an unlikely vehicle trade.
  My favorite: the Martian astronomer of John Hall Wheelock’s poem Earth. Also found in the wonderful poetry collection Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle (HarperTeen, 1967).
  Nikki Giovanni’s Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars) is the title poem from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems (William Morrow, 2002). (“We are going to Mars for the same reason Marco Polo rocketed to China/For the same reason Columbus trimmed his sails on a dream of spices…”)
See Albert Bigelow Paine’s The Planet Mars.
From the Academy of American Poets, see Marvin Bell’s Mars Being Red.
  John Updike’s Duet on Mars is a dialogue between rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
  According to Wikipedia, Martian poetry was a British poetry movement of the 1970s and 80s, characterized by “curious, exotic and humorous visual metaphors” – that is, viewing ordinary things as if through the eyes of a Martian. An example is Craig Raine’s A Martian Sends a Postcard Home.(Cool project. Try some of your own.)
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One Comment

  1. Spaceflightengineer
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed looking over your list. You do however have this:

    “Movie versions of War of the Worlds include a black-and-white 1953 adaptation with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson,”

    The 1953 George Pal classic is not B&W. Your still photo from the film is. The film is fully in color.
    Thanks for some cool listings.


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