What's Going On?

Flexible wheel

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 5 – 7

Science topics:

Materials , Forces

Spark a conversation with this video showing footage of an ExoMars Rover in action. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

2. After you’ve watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • How is this different from a car tyre?
  • How fast does the rover travel?
  • Who is driving it?
  • How does it know where it is going?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw, using only one word.

Background science

The wheels of the Mars Rover need to be extremely durable, as they operate in rough terrain with no ongoing maintenance. Previous wheels have been made of a strong material (aluminium). However, they were relatively brittle because they had to be extremely thin so that they were light enough to launch into space. As a result, the wheels became damaged over time. The wheels shown here are more durable because they form themselves to the shape of obstacles as they pass over them, which means that they are less likely to break. They then quickly return to their original shape so that they can still function effectively as wheels. 


The ExoMars mission is looking for signs of life on Mars. We've got lots of activities to support your own Mars exploration. Read more on our blog!

Take it further

Give the children some cylinders made in a variety of materials to explore. Encourage them to discuss in which ways they would make a good tyre for an Exo-Mars Rover and in which ways they would be less effective. Properties to think about include strength, weight, durability and how quickly it reforms after it has been squashed out of shape. Items to explore could include; a wooden disc, an unopened metal can with its label removed, a piece of plasticine, an empty plastic (cylindrical) bottle, a cardboard crisp tube and a rolling pin. 

Children could also be asked to compare how easy it is to snap a rigid object such as a lolly stick or a piece of rigid plastic compared with something more flexible such as a pipe-cleaner or some more bendy plastic or to compare the durability of a softly blown-up balloon compared to one that is fully inflated. Check out STEM Learning's Martian Explorers: What are Space Robots? activity. 

Video Credit: Derived from From Concept to Reality © ESA/NASA via ESA CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/ narration removed

Image Credit: ESA/NASA via ESA CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO 

Music: Ether Oar by The Whole Other via YouTube CC0