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 Challenge banner with several small pictures that illustrates students designing and experts explaining what is happening at NASA

What are they?
NASA Quest Challenges are Web-based, interactive explorations designed to engage students in authentic scientific and engineering processes. The solutions relate to issues encountered daily by NASA personnel.

The content of NASA Quest Challenges follows real NASA tasks with the goal of involving young people in developing tomorrow's solutions, while inspiring them towards careers in science and engineering. As students work in teams to mirror NASA career roles, agency experts are available to answer questions and to encourage a proper design process. The interaction with scientists occurs via Q&A, chats, interactive Webcasts, and posted feedback on the Web site.

Typically, each scholastic year offers one or two NASA Quest Challenges each of which typically spans six to eight weeks. The activities are designed around problem-based learning and crafted to assist teachers with the incorporation of the content into their educational standard's requirements.

A typical challenge begins with students receiving a question relating to an actual NASA mission. Students work on preliminary solutions, based on research, as NASA experts provide "real time" critiquing. Final designs are developed after student obtain constructive feedback and encouragement. Both student work and parallel projects at NASA are featured in a live Webcast.

For information on technical requirements and instructions on how to participate in Web events see our "How to" Page.

Past NASA Quest Challenges:

  • LCROSS -- Exploration through Navigation Challenge (Part II) - Spring 2009
    In this second part of the challenge, students were be tasked to chart a course from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida to one of the lunar poles using navigation skills appropriate for outer space. For this task, students will submit their navigation plan (as a class) to NASA experts for review. At the end of the Challenge, students were asked to compare and contrast methods of navigating on Earth (at sea) and in space.

  • LCROSS -- Exploration through Navigation Challenge (Part I) - Fall 2008
    During this Challenge, students were tasked to chart a course from the Big Island of Hawai’i to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) using ocean navigation skills that were used in early Polynesian exploration. For both parts of the Challenge, the essential question used to keep students on task is “How do you stay on course?”

  • LIMA Quest Challenge - Fall, 2008
    The Second Challenge involving the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) -- see LIMA Spring, 2008 Quest Challenge below Students in this challenge become the scientists who study the features on Antarctica, and they develop a research proposal, arguing the value of studying a feature based on this new view of Antarctica.

  • LCROSS Cratering the Moon Challenge - Spring 2008
    The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission will begin the search for water, leveraging the information we learned from the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions. Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California are developing a spacecraft they’ll deliberately crash into the Moon as part of an attempt to find water. Students were challenge to design a lunar impact simulator and determine the optimal impact angle to give us the most information from the crash.

  • LIMA Quest Challenge - Spring, 2008
    The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) is the first-ever true-color high-resolution satellite view of the Antarctic continent enabling everyone to see Antarctica as it appears in real life. This new view of Antarctica will revolutionize Antarctica research. Students in this challenge become the scientists who study the features on Antarctica, and they develop a research proposal, arguing the value of studying a feature based on this new view of Antarctica.
  • HiRISE Challenge - Fall 2007, 2008
    The HiRISE camera, now orbiting Mars onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is helping NASA to search for signs of past and present water on Mars. Understanding the history of water on Mars helps scientists understand if there is now or ever has been life on Mars. Students are challenged to choose some regions of Mars for HiRISE to image that probably contained water at the surface in the past. The HiRISE team will pick several suggestions and image them with the camera in the coming months. Your team will represent the first people on Earth to see the resulting image and will have the chance to search for signs of water in the image.
    Spring 2007:
    Fall 2007:

  • Lunar Research Station Design Challenge -- Fall 2006
    In order to prepare for exploration on the Moon and Mars, NASA utilizes sites on Earth to simulate living and working on extra-terrestrial surfaces. Students, primarily in grades 5 – 8, will be challenged to design and build a full- or scale-model of an Earth-based research station that will support living adaptively and working efficiently on the Moon.
  • Living and Working on Mars, Part 1: Here Today, Gone to Mars! -- Fall 2005
    As NASA turns its attention to human travel to the Moon and Mars, there are many hurdles that will need to be overcome. NASA Quest challenges students, primarily in grades 5-8, to work with the help of NASA scientists to design solutions to these obstacles. During the months of October and November, our focus will be the use of locations on Earth as analogs to study fieldwork on Mars. More information:
  • Design a Planet -- November 2005
    In this live webcast, students will have the opportunity to interact with Virtual Planet Laboratory scientists who are developing a program that can model planets with signs of life. Students will also be introduced to a new simulation on the Astro-Venture <> Website that will challenge them to design a planet that would support human habitation. More information:
  • Air Transportation Challenge – March – May 2005
    Students are invited to take a look into the future of aviation and develop their own new design for the National Airspace System (NAS). The challenge follows the format of: Future Flight Design, Part 1, with live NASA expert participation.
  • PSA Challenge -- Microgravity Challenge January – April 2004
    Classrooms are challenged to design a way to test the Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA) on Earth to make sure that it will work once it is in microgravity. During this process, students explore the engineering design process, including a peer review for refining their designs. NASA engineers and scientists were on hand to help to guide the process.

  • Astro-Venture Challenge: Design a Martian - October - December 2003
    This challenge is for students to design a Martian—a life-form capable of surviving on Mars! Working with other students, participants were encouraged to research what makes a planet habitable for humans and to answer the questions: Does Mars have the conditions necessary for human survival? What sort of creature could survive on Mars?

  • PSA Challenge -- Robot Design Challenge March – April 2003
    Scientists and Engineers at NASA were designing a robot to assist astronauts with their routine chores on the International Space Station (ISS). These robots will float (because of microgravity), propel themselves, and help out with all kinds of tasks like checking the temperature and air composition to make sure it’s safe for the astronauts and making repairs to the ISS. Students were challenged to design a robot for these purposes.

The following were the predecesors to the current challenge format, and some files are no longer available:

  • The Great Mars Debate: 2001

    Students were invited to join a select group of international Mars Scientists, educators, and other students as they evaluated potential landing sites for the 2003 Mars Rovers mission. This event began with an open debate room in which students debated their points of view on potential landing sites and the project culminated with a live webcast featuring a panel of Mars scientists.

  • Design a Mars Airplane
    In order to gather more and greater amounts of information about Mars, its geology, geography, possible hydrology, and atmosphere, scientists wish to fly an autonomous (robot-controlled) aircraft with a scientific instrument payload above the surface of Mars for as long as aerodynamically possible. This aircraft must fit into the spacecraft which will carry it to Mars. See updated Challenge Winter 2006

  • Right Flying ‘1999
    Imagine students solving aeronautical puzzles through teamwork and testing, brainstorming and sharing design models, and building and problem solving with other students across the country. This is the basis for Right Flying. Students parallel the scientific and engineering process used by Orville and Wilbur Wright as they determine the best glider design which results in the longest and most stable flight.

  • The Great Habitat Debate - December 1997 – February ’98
    As students brainstorm the needs and requirements for caring for animals in space, they will begin to understand microgravity and its effects on animals and humans. Students are encouraged to collaborate with classrooms around the world as they become life scientists and engineers designing a space-worthy animal habitat for our furry friends.

    The Great Plant Debate - 1996
    Classrooms around the world design plant-growing hardware for microgravity, debate the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, and then compare with NASA designs.

  • Live from the HST – 1996
    included several challenges including deciding which planets to observe during three Hubble orbits and making observations. For the first time ever, K-12 classrooms used this unique optical telescope by deciding what astronomical bodies to study, watching while the satellite was prepared to capture their data, and then interpreting the scientific significance of their observations.


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NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: January 2009