NASA Ames Research Center  + Visit the NASA portal Site Accessibility Notes
 challenge banner showing moon-like landscape
Suggested Approach to the Lunar Research Station Design Challenge


Here is our suggested approach to conducting the Lunar Outpost Challenge with your students. This outline is intended to provide you a framework from which to work.  Each class setting is different, so we welcome modifications and creativity, and we encourage you to share “best practices” that have worked well for you so that we can pass your ideas along to fellow teachers.  Enjoy!


As soon as you finish assigning student IDs and implementing the Pre-Challenge Student Survey (see Welcome letter), familiarize your students with the purpose of the  Lunar Research Station Design Challenge by exposing them to important background information.

  1. Conceptual Development
    1. Research Stations
      1. How is a research station different from a habitat, settlement, outpost (or similar places).  Check dictionary definitions and compare and contrast.
      2. Are there examples of research stations on Earth that exist now ? (e.g. Antarctica).  What is their function? Why are they located where they are?
      3.  What can scientists do at a research station that they can’t do in their offices or laboratories?
    2. Analog Studies
      1. What is an “analog”?
      2. Have students identify analogs in their immediate environment (e.g. a classroom aquarium or terrarium is analogous to a fish/animal’s natural environment, and enables them to live in a place where they otherwise would not survive)
      3. How do the identified analogs “fall short” of being a perfect analog (exactly like a lake/ocean/rainforest) ? Point out that some deficiencies can be a hindrance (e.g. much less space to move around) while some can be helpful (e.g. no predators, temperature control)
    3. Human requirements
      1. Have students identify what they need to live and work on the Moon.  The class can discuss what things are really needed to survive (e.g. oxygen, food, warmth, waste handling, transportation, communication both local and to Earth) and what isn’t (e.g. TV, video games, fast food).  Working requires being able to go “outside” and explore areas away from the living quarters.
      2. A follow-on discussion may involve what becomes necessary when traveling the long distance to the moon and spending months away from home (e.g. communication with family, entertainment – human factors issues)
      3. A further discussion may involve trade-offs between size/weight and transportation to the moon, power requirements and availability, transporting cargo to the moon and utilizing lunar resources  (“in-situ resources utilization”).
    4. Lunar Environment
      1. How is the lunar environment different from Earth’s?
      2. Identify what human living and working requirements are not met by the lunar environment.
  2. Design Development
    1. Location
      1. Where in your immediate area would be the best place to build a lunar analog research station?
      2. Be able to explain why this site was selected.
      3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your location?
    2. Energy and Life Support
      1. How will your design support energy requirements for heating/cooling, cooking, working, lighting, communication etc.
      2. How will your design provide life support, e.g. oxygen, warmth, cooling, etc.
      3. What provisions will you make for recycling waste.
    3. Human factors
      1. How will your design support recreation, privacy, social areas, quiet areas, communication with home, etc.?
      2. How will you communicate with personnel in the field?
      3. How will you provide for communications to Earth?
    4. Exploration and EVA Activities
      1. How will your design support entry/exit from the living quarters to  the outside, transportation on the surface, spacesuits, exploration equipment, etc.
    5. Research station architecture and materials
      1. Prepare a floor plan of your research station and any outside support structures (e.g. garage, storage areas)
      2. Will your research station be above or below ground ?
      3. What materials will you use to build the station ?  Why?
    6. Contamination
      1. How will you protect the explorers from radiation, exposure to heat/cold, etc.
      2. How will you protect equipment from dust, exposure to heat/cold, etc.
      3. How will you protect the Moon from contamination from humans?
      4. How will you deal with carbon dioxide, grey water, toxic waste, etc.?


Browse the list of teacher articles

Browse the list of considerations to stimulate discussion and design

Browse digital pictures and field journals from the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS):

Read about the purpose of the MDRS

Read journals about what types of work go on in an analog station

Explore the following links with your students:

Get to know the MDRS crew members

What is a Mars analog?

More about Mars analogs

Helpful background research

Learn more about Spaceward Bound and investigate the resources offered by that program

What does it take for a world to be habitable to humans?
allows students in grades 5-8 to explore this question through interactive investigations in astronomy, geology, atmospheric science, and biology.

Download and use the online Quest program "What's the Difference?" to compare and contrast the conditions on Moon with those of Earth. Solar System Explorer is a scaled-down version of "What's the Difference?", which can be used to compare the Moon and Earth. Download and expand into new folder all of the files received:

PC Version (here)
Mac Version (here)
To download the full authoring tool to fill in your own content, go to:

Browse Teacher information in the document entitled Exploring the Moon (Download 158 pp. in .pdf format). This teachers' guide has been designed for use in upper elementary through high school. Provided in the guide is background information about the moon. The activities are divided into three units: Pre-Apollo, Learning from Apollo and the Future.


Divide your class into teams to cover each area (energy and life support, human factors, etc.).  The idea is for each team to design solutions within their concept area that complement the other teams’ solutions and concept areas.  For example, the team focusing on Exploration and EVA activities has to work with the Research station architecture and materials group to design the entry/exit to the living quarters.  Those groups have to also work with the Contamination group to make sure dust from the outside isn’t brought inside during entry.

NOTE:  If you are working with a small class or a single student, then you may choose to focus on only ONE of the areas concepts.



KICKOFF EVENT OCTOBER 23:  This web chat will kick-start the Challenge and will complement the pre-Challenge discussions you have had with your students. Students will “meet the experts” and will have the opportunity to ask them questions.

PRELIMINARY DESIGN AND PEER FEEDBACK:  Have your students work in their teams and brainstorm preliminary design ideas.  Once each team completes a design, bring the class together for team mini-presentations.  Each team will describe or “present” their ideas to the rest of the class and acquire peer feedback. This is the perfect time for teams to identify “conflicts” between their designs.  Remind your students that even though their team is specializing in a particular concept, they must continue to look at the whole picture and envision each team’s ideas working together in one environment.  Upon discussing ideas with and soliciting feedback from the class, teams should fine-tune their initial design into a preliminary design to be submitted for expert review.

PRELIMINARY DESIGN AND SCIENTIST FEEDBACK:  Preliminary designs must be submitted in late October (deadline to be announced). These designs will be posted on the web, and NASA scientists will review them and reply with feedback online regarding the design’s strengths and weaknesses. This feedback will be provided during the first weeks of November.

FINAL DESIGN SUBMISSION:  Teams will refine their preliminary designs into a final design based on the scientists’ feedback they received.  Final designs must be submitted on or before November 30 and will be posted on the web. Final designs should be submitted as follows:

  1. Documentation of the full- or scale-model built by the team - preferably digital photos
  2. Floor plan – drawn by hand or with a computer
  3. A written description of the Research Station, justification for design decisions, analysis of strengths and weaknesses

NOTE:  Some pictures may be posted on the web or used in a summary report to highlight student ideas and work.  Therefore, if student faces are clearly visible in the pictures you send, then NASA will require that you complete a release form for those students.  This only applies to identifiable “face shots”; pictures containing profiles, backs of student heads, or pictures only showing the project and not the student(s) will not require a release form. A release form is available in .pdf format.

CLASS-WIDE PRESENTATION:  Gather your teams together to conduct an all-inclusive presentation to their school or grade level. This activity will allow your students to see the “big picture” as they demonstrate to their peers how their designs work and how they also complement and support one another.  Although NASA will not be directly participating in this activity, we feel it is a key component that demonstrates how scientists, researchers, and engineers ultimately work together to conduct exploration missions.

GRAND FINALE WEBCAST:  A final webcast will be hosted in early December (date and time to be announced), in which final designs will be posted and discussed by NASA personnel.  This interactive, culminating event will allow your students to learn about the ideas submitted by other classrooms around the world as well as enjoy the spotlight as their design is presented.


After the final web cast, have your students return to the computer to complete the Post-Challenge Student Survey/Reaction Questionnaire. You, the teacher, will also need to complete the online Teacher Reaction Questionnaire.  These feedback forms allow us to learn which aspects of the Challenge students enjoy most as well as identify ways to make future Challenges more useful to your classroom curriculum and environment.

Thank you for participating in the Lunar Research Station Design Challenge.  We hope this information helps guide you through the Challenge process; however, if you have an approach that works better for you, then please share.  We welcome “best practices” to pass along to other participants!

NASA Ames Quest Challenge Team


 FirstGov  NASA

NASA Official: Mark León
Last Updated: May 2005
+ Contact Us