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WHAT'S IT ABOUT? You, the reader, are helping with a simulated flight to Mars.

In this simulation, four "bionauts" are sealed into identical pods containing plants, animals and water. The goal is for them to survive for six months receiving no water, food or air from outside. Your role: you monitor the conditions in each pod, simulating Misson Control back on Earth. Our story begins on the 34th day of the simulation, when you notice something wrong in one of the pods. The oxygen is getting low - why? THEMES Besides the usual Science Mystery themes (literacy, inquiry-based learning, problem-solving logic, inductive and deductive reasoning), "Angry Red Planet" puts your students hands-on with facts about respiration, ecosystems and ecological cycles, chemical and biochemical reactions, carbon dioxide poisoning, and the effects of stress on human physiology and psychology. They must learn how to read graphs and evaluate data to solve the mystery. FORMAT The "Angry Red Planet" science mystery has three parts. In the first part, you meet the characters and enter the story. In the second part, you interview the characters and investigate the facts. In the third part, you attempt to solve the case; when you do, an epilog concludes the story and gives you links for further research into the story themes. LENGTH It takes an average reader about 20-30 minutes to get to the "solve-it" page, and 10 minutes or less to solve the mystery and read the Epilog. SOLVING THE MYSTERY Teachers can assist students in mastering the problem-solving skills necessary to solve a science mystery. Some basic techniques: -You should have a pen and notebook at your side, to take notes as you go through the story. -You should organize and label your notes as you go, under broad categories such as "Possible Causes," "What the Graph Says," "Sequence of Events" and so on. -Evaluate your information. Is this a fact or an opinion? -Be observant! The mystery has visual clues. IS IT TRUE SCIENCE? The narrative itself is fictional, but the scenario is based on actual events and contemporary science research and discoveries.

HOW DO TEACHERS USE THIS MYSTERY? Science mysteries such as "Angry Red Planet" integrate science learning within an exciting narrative. They have wide appeal and are thus well-suited to be a class activity. Typically a teacher will have students read and discuss the mystery during a class period. Some teachers solve the mystery as a class; others allow students to solve the mystery and do continuing research on their own. Many teachers use the science mysteries to engage advanced students, especially those who may normally shun science.

START When you volunteered to help oversee the simulated space flight to Mars, everyone warned you the job would be boring. Of course that was before the oxygen started getting low... Disaster threatens a simulated mission to Mars unless you can figure out what's going wrong. Where You Are: In the desert outside Tucson, Arizona, underground in an old missile silo. What You're Working On: A Mars flight simulation. Four volunteer "bionauts" have each been sealed into identical pods containing plants, animals and a large supply of water. The goal: survive for six months receiving no water, food or air from the outside. Meet the bionauts Who You Are: You are one of the project's volunteer "MCSyMs" - Mission Control System Monitors the people who simulate Mission Control back on Earth. You help the bionauts adjust the life conditions in their pods - and you also monitor each bionaut's physical and psychological health. When Our Story Begins: The simulation is now in its 34th day, without any problems.

The upper level is the HYDROPONIC CULTURE AREA. Here is where the bionaut works to cultivate various types of fast-growing plants in hydroponic beds. The beds float on the surface of the pod's water reservoir. The plants produce some food and convert exhaled CO2 to O2. The lower level is the AQUACULTURE AREA. Here the bionaut cultivates beds of freshwater aquatic plants and populations of small creatures such as crayfish and snails. The aquaculture area also converts CO2 to O2 and helps keep the water supply clean. The lower level also contains the bionaut's LIVING QUARTERS. This small cabin is mostly below the water level; in space, the mass of the water will help shield the bionaut from cosmic rays. Inside, there is a living area where the bionaut can relax and entertain other bionauts, plus a bunk, bath, and kitchen. A storage locker holds a six-month supply of food. The LIGHTS are on continuously, and bright enough to simulate sunlight in space.

Beyond the HATCH at the top of the ladder is an airlock, which leads to corridors connecting to other pods. The entire simulation is sealed and no food or air gets in from the outside. The red portal is the EMERGENCY HATCH, which opens automatically if the carbon dioxide level inside the pod rises to 0.5%.

Haidee Thomas graduate student in astrobiology, University of Washington Why did she join the Mars Flight Simulation? "I think it's important work, not just for future space flight but for understanding how our own earthly biosphere works. And I hope it will increase the odds that I am selected for the Mars Mission, whenever it happens!" What got her interested in science? "I have always been fascinated by the unknown. When I was a girl I loved to explore. And that led to wanting to understand everything about the things I found while exploring."
Jerrold Fulda zoologist, Toronto, Canada Why did he join the Mars Flight Simulation? "It's a chance to add something of substance to the knowledge of biospheres. Plus I was drawn to the challenge of running my own complete little zoo." What got him interested in science?"When I was about ten years old, my family got a fish tank. I found the fish fascinating, and I still do."

Samara Harris undergraduate student in environmental health studies, University of Nevada, Reno Why did she join the Mars Flight Simulation? "To be cooped up in my own little world for months on end may not sound exciting to most people, but to me it sounded like heaven. I was very excited to apply for the project and overjoyed when I was selected." What got her interested in science? "My interest has always been people - what makes them happy. I found out in high school that science was the best way to help us people live happily in our world." Foster Andrees graduate student in ecobiology systems, Western Illinois University Why did he join the Mars Flight Simulation? "Are you kidding? For what I've chosen to study, this is the cutting edge." What got him interested in science? "I don't remember any one moment where, like, a light came on or anything. I've always liked asking questions and finding out the answers, and if you go into science you get to do that a lot!" "Hey, thanks," Kyle says when you show up. "I really appreciate this." At his request, you've come to work an hour early. "No problem," you say. He gets up, and you take his place at the control console. "Anything going on?" "Nah," he says, slicking back his hair. "Oxygen a little low in #4. Oh, and by the way, I got hungry and ordered a pizza. Looks like you get to have it." And with that he steps into the elevator and is gone. QUESTIONS ON NUTRITION

As always, you check the vital signs of each pod, one by one.

Pod One: Haidee. Oxygen: 21.05%. Carbon Dioxide: 0.040%. Water Temperature: 75 degrees. All within standard limits. Pod Two: Jerrold. Oxygen: 21.02%. Carbon Dioxide: 0.043%. Water Temperature: 73 degrees. Nothing too alarming here. Pod Three: Samara. Oxygen: 21.23%. Carbon Dioxide: 0.038%. Water Temperature: 76 degrees. Oxygen and temperature are both a little high.

A glance at her mission log tells you that Samara is sleeping right now, so you send her a message to read when she wakes up. But then you look at Pod Four, Foster's pod. Oxygen: 20.51%. And even worse: Carbon Dioxide: 0.44%. Immediately you push a button: SYSTEM ALERT. Now you grab the microphone and broadcast: "Foster: Alert! Your O2's low and CO2's reaching dangerous levels. What's going on?"

Carbon dioxide (CO2) Carbon dioxide occurs normally in Earth's atmosphere in concentrations of about 0.036% (350 parts per million). Because humans breathe out carbon dioxide as a basic byproduct of metabolism, levels can increase if there is poor or no ventilation to the outside air. When the CO2 level in the air increases:

At 600 parts per million (ppm), people notice the air is "stuffy."

At 1000 ppm and up, some people may begin to feel the classic symptoms of carbon dioxide poisoning: shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, rapid pulse rate, headaches, hearing loss, hyperventilation, sweating, and fatigue.

5000 ppm (0.5%). Prolonged exposure to levels above 5000 ppm is regarded as potentially dangerous to human health, especially if accompanied by reduced oxygen levels. 15,000 ppm (1.5%). At this level, people can suffer symptoms within an hour or two. At 30,000 ppm and up, people can suffer serious symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, mental depression, shaking, visual disturbances and vomiting. If exposure persists, people may pass out, and if levels continue to increase, they may die.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) should not be confused with carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide, a common product of combustion, is lethal at comparatively low levels: CO concentrations above 400 ppm are life-threatening and above 1600 ppm, will cause human death within an hour.
Then you settle down to wait. To simulate the isolation of space travel accurately, a time delay is built into the communication system. It takes almost two minutes for your urgent message to reach Foster and his crewmates, and another two minutes for their reply to come back. The seconds tick by, agonizingly slowly. As you watch, the CO2 level in Pod Four creeps More seconds crawl by. Then a reply from Jerrold:

Foster's locked the hatch. He won't respond. I can't get in.

From Haidee:

up to 0.47%. Then a reply comes back: not from Foster, but from Haidee in Pod One.

You better call Thornton.

Katie Thornton is the Mission Commander. Your boss. You look at the clock: almost ten minutes have gone by since you sounded the alert.

Something's up with Foster. He hasn't come out of his pod for days. Jerrold's going to investigate.

"Hey," a voice comes from behind you. "Here's your pizza." The young woman hands you a battered-looking box. "Look, I'm really busy right now," you say. "Great," she says, and puts the box down. "Um, can I use your phone?" Without waiting for reply she picks it up, listens, makes a face. "I was afraid of that," she says, and hands you the phone. It's dead.

"One of those wires must have been the phone line," the woman muses. Her name tag reads ADRI. "What wires?" you ask. "The ones on the pole." "Which pole?" She looks uncomfortable. "The one I accidentally sort of pushed over with my truck," she says.

"On my way in here, there was this bobcat? So I like, swerved? And the pole was like really weak or something, because I just brushed it and it fell over, and all the wires came down and everything. Oh, don't worry," she says, looking at your face. "The bobcat is okay. He ran off into the sagebrush." "It's just that I really, really need to make a phone call right now," you say. "Oh."

Just then a message comes through from Jerrold. I talked with Foster. He's okay but won't open the hatch. Says he must handle the problem on his own. And then from Haidee: Look, we have to act fast. Foster's CO2 is at a dangerous level. If we can't turn it around, his emergency hatch will open automatically. And that means the simulation will be ruined. Thornton will be furious.

Let's look at his pod data. If we can figure out what's gone wrong in his pod and fix it, maybe we can save the simulation. But I'm guessing we only have about 15 minutes at this point. Maybe 20. You glance at the alert clock. It flips over to 15:00. You flip on the microphone and tell the team: "Attention, everyone. Samara, wake up. What's gone wrong with Foster's ecosystem? What could happen to make his oxygen level drop and his carbon dioxide to rise? Let's get all the theories on the table, now."

All the while, Adri has been looking over your shoulder, and gazing with interest at the diagrams on the walls. "Wow," she says. "Mars - the Angry Red Planet. Let me see if I got this right. This guy Foster is sealed in this pod thing, right? With a bunch of plants that make oxygen for him to breathe." "They convert the carbon dioxide he breathes out into oxygen he breathes in," you say. "Right. But something's gone wrong. There's not enough oxygen, and too much carbon dioxide. So he's going to pass out soon."

"Except that the emergency hatch will pop open first," you say. "And shut down our experiment." "Probably cost a lot to start it up again." "About half a million dollars." "Oh." Her eyes flick over to the pizza box. "I guess this would be a bad time to remind you that you owe me $16.25 plus tax and, uh, tip."


Haidee's voice booms out, and you both jump. You listen in as the bionauts talk, half to you, half among themselves. Theories. You want a theory? Okay, here's mine. Foster's plants are not producing

Now Jerrold speaks up: I believe other creatures are using up his O2. Each pod has crawdads, shrimp and creatures in it they're necessary to keep the plants healthy and the ecosystem in balance.But if their numbers get out of control - they start to

enough O2. Plants produce O2 as a result of photosynthesis. Not enough photosynthesis - not enough oxygen. Plants depend on light for photosynthesis. If Foster hasn't been giving his plants enough light, that would explain why he's running out of oxygen.

use up more oxygen than they should. But now a new voice breaks in: You're crazy, both of you. The new voice is Foster's.

Foster goes on: I mean, what do you think I do all day? I take care of my plants. They're getting lots of light; they're getting plenty of nutrients; they doing as well as anybody else's. Now Jerrold speaks up: Well, what about my theory? I believe you have an overpopulation going on, Foster - you seen any signs of that?

Foster replies: I figure it would take over a pound of crawdads or whatever to explain my oxygen loss. And all my oxygen-breathing populations seem to be normal. If you don't believe me, check the database. Foster goes on: What I think is - this may sound fantastic, but - I think something in my pod is on fire.

Jerrold says: Wow. Why do you think so? Smelled any smoke? Foster responds: No. But what else can it be? My plants are healthy, my animals are healthy. It's driving me crazy. Now someone else speaks up Samara. I'll tell you what else it can be, Foster. It's you. Your pod got a little off balance. You started worrying. It raised your metabolism. You're consuming more oxygen. You've got to calm down.

Now Haidee breaks in: Okay. Four of us, four theories. Let's do this by the book. Everybody research your theory: Foster, look for something burning. Samara, look for evidence that Foster's metabolism is up. Jerrold, look for evidence that other creatures are consuming the oxygen. And I'll look for evidence that Foster's plants are not producing as much oxygen as they should. Our MCSyM can call on us to learn what we find. It's up to the MCSyM to decide what to do.

Foster responds: Right. Samara: Good. Jerrold: Affirmative. Haidee says: Okay, then. There's just one last thing.

Haidee continues: You got to tell us what happened, Foster. You're the brightest guy on our team. Why didn't you call us earlier? Why did you let this thing threaten our mission? There is silence. And then Foster says:

Samara says: I hope you don't do that. You're a natural. Then Jerrold speaks up. Look, we'll make a deal with you. If we solve this problem together, you won't drop out. Is it a deal?

I'm sorry. I ignored what was happening at first. I just couldn't believe it! Then I felt that unless I solved it myself, I'd get drummed out of the bionaut program. I've already decided to quit the program. I - I guess I just don't have what it takes.


"Wow. It's a puzzlement, isn't it?" Adri says. "What I want to know is, when did this whole thing start?" "The whole history of Foster's pod is here in the project database." "So let's look at what's been going on in Pod Four," she says. You open up the mission data and call up a summary graph.

What Happened to Foster's Air?

The Pod 4 simulation began with an atmosphere approximating Earth's: 21% oxygen, 0.035% carbon dioxide, and the rest nitrogen, except for trace gases. Oxygen (O2) As time goes on, photosynthesis in plants produces oxygen, which replaces the oxygen consumed by Foster and other aerobic (oxygenbreathing) creatures in the pod. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Nitrogen - essentially an inert gas. Trace Gases - primarily methane. Living creatures produce methane as a byproduct of digestion, especially of cellulose. On Earth, ruminants such as cattle plus termites are responsible for about a quarter of the methane released each year. Now, on Day 34, the carbon dioxide level is climbing dramatically and nears 0.5%. The oxygen level has dipped correspondingly. The methane

As time goes on, the pod's plants consume the carbon dioxide breathed out by Foster and other aerobic (oxygen-breathing) creatures in the pod.

level has also climbed steeply, almost parallel with the increase in carbon dioxide.

"Now let's go through Pod Four," you say, "in a virtual tour. Examine everything in it." "Looking for clues!" Adri exclaims. "Cool." She reads from the mission handbook as you call up the video images. "This is the garden area," she says. "The big pond with the deck in the middle. All those plants - looks like a jungle!"

"Hey, just like Webcam," Adri says. "All the pods are supposed to be identical," you say. "They started out that way, at least." "The bunk is there in the middle, and the desk is on the left. Mini-kitchen over to the right, and the table next to it." She shrugs. "I don't see anything unusual here."

"This is where the consumable supplies are stored," Adri reads. "A six-month supply, mostly of food. Lots of bulk stuff, like rice." "It's all wrapped in cardboard and stored in wooden crates," you say. "According to the handbook, it's just that way for the simulation. In a real spaceship, they'd worry much more about weight and volume."

You look at the current carbon dioxide level in Pod Four. It's now 0.48%. "We don't have much time left," you say. "At 0.5%, it's all over." "I think we have time to talk with one person," Adri says. "Better choose carefully. Who's on the right track, do you think?"

Haidee takes a deep breath.

I haven't found evidence that there's anything wrong with Foster's plants. The way I read the data, Foster's plants are growing normally, which leads me to believe they're also photosynthesizing normally. Here, you can compare his data against mine for the last eight days.

"They already had plants growing when they started the simulation," Adri reads from the handbook. "At any time each pod has a mix of seedlings, growing plants, and mature plants ready to be harvested, so the total plant mass should always be about the same." You and Adri examine the charts. "I agree with Haidee," she says finally. "I don't see much difference. And Foster's plants seem to be doing just fine."

Jerrold sounds disappointed.

Here, you can compare the critters I counted in Foster's tank against the counts for my tank and Samara's tank. If I could only find about two pounds of creatures, I could explain the missing oxygen. But all the populations in Foster's tank seem to be correct. It's hard to hide two pounds of shrimp, or crawdads, or anything in these tanks.

"Hmmm," Adri says. "Looks like Pod 2 has more of every type of creature than Pod 4 does."

Samara doesn't know what to think.

My theory was that taking care of his pod was stressing Foster out. And the stress made him breathe faster, use more oxygen. In short, I thought he was hyperventilating. But here's the evidence that I came up with. You can decide for yourself if it accounts for what's happening.
Explore Samara's Graph CONTINUE>

Adri frowns. "This doesn't tell us what we really need to know. Which is - has Foster had a greater metabolism rate than normal in the last few days? Because, if he did, he'd be using more oxygen." "Let me resort Samara's data," you say. You make a few mouse clicks, and a new chart appears on the screen. "Hmmm," Adri says. "Looks like Foster's metabolism has actually been slower than usual in the last few days. Less energy output than Samara, that's for sure."

Foster is all excited!

I think I figured it out! It's rust! Metals oxidize - combine with oxygen - to form rust. It's like a form of slow burning, really! So my oxygen is being consumed by a chemical reaction - the oxidation of metal. The only problem is, I haven't figured out exactly what's rusting. Or why my pod's got rust and no one else's does. And it must be a LOT of rust, to use up all the oxygen that's missing by now.

Adri turns to you. Her brow is furrowed. "Now this place we're in, this used to be a missile silo," she begins. "Right," you say. "So like there used to be a missile here," she goes on. "That's right." "A nuclear missile? So maybe the walls are radioactive? And maybe this radiation is what's stopping the photosynthesis in the plants. That's my theory - the radioactivity has something to do with it."

The carbon dioxide level in Pod Four slides up to 0.49%. It's time to make a decision.

What's going wrong in Foster's Pod Four?

Foster's plants are not producing enough oxygen...

The missing oxygen is being used up by an overpopulation of creatures...

Foster is stressed, and...

Somewhere in Foster's pod...

"Foster, you've got a population of creatures, somewhere outside your tank," you announce. "They're breathing up all your O2." Haidee responds:

All right then. Do it by the book. If there are invasive creatures - shut all the airtight doors until we figure out what and where they are.
Foster and the other bionauts close the airtight doors to their bedrooms and storage lockers. And little by little the carbon dioxide level in the main living area of Foster's pod creeps back down to normal. An investigation reveals that two colonies of termites were hidden in the wooden crates in his storage locker, and some other bugs had gotten into the foodstuffs. All told, over three pounds of insects were hidden in the food supplies.