Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Space Stations
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Activity at a Glance
Designing and Constructing a Space Station

To experience the need for clear communication and teamwork when designing and building a model space station.

Children design a space station using a set of paper cutout parts. First, they learn the name and function of each part. Next, pairs of children create at least two space station designs, showing that there are different ways to create a successful space station. The full group then divides into a Mission Control Team (design) and an Astronaut Team (construction), and they take positions on either side of a screen or bookcase. The Mission Control Team creates a space station design. Then, mission controllers take turns telling the astronauts what to do to construct this design on their side of the screen. After placing all the parts in the appropriate location, both teams examine how closely the two designs match and discuss any communication difficulties.


  • Building complex structures requires clear communication, proper sequencing, and teamwork.
  • Space stations are composed of a variety of modular parts.
  • Russia and the United States have both had a series of space stations in orbit since 1971.
  • Space stations are the only gravity-free laboratories where scientists can conduct long-term research.
  • Space stations enable scientists to study phenomena related to further exploration and development of space.

Appropriate Ages
This activity is intended for ages 10–13.

60 minutes


  • White paper
  • Rulers
  • Colored pencils and/or markers
  • Photocopy master of space station parts (Sheet 1, Sheet 2)
  • Space station parts for every pair of children (Cut each part so it is separated from the others. If you plan to do the activity repeatedly, consider laminating them. Copy each kind of part onto different-colored paper)
  • Space station parts transparency and overhead projector (optional)
  • NASA International Space Station fact sheets (optional)

The International Space Station (Press Kit)
The International Space Station: An Overview
Living and Working in Space
International Space Station Assembly: A Construction Site in Orbit
Others (including mission overviews and challenges to human health)

  • Books about space, space travel, and/or space stations
  • Blackline master of the completed International Space Station (Sheet 3)
  • Information sheet: International Space Station: Complete with Shuttle (Sheet 4)

Correlations to National Science Standards

Science and Technology — Content Standard E

Understandings about Science and Technology

  • Scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences. Scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations. Technological solutions are temporary; technologies exist within nature and so they cannot contravene physical or biological principles; technological solutions have side effects; and technologies cost, carry risks, and provide benefits.
  • Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have trade-offs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology.
  • Technological designs have constraints. Some constraints are unavoidable, for example, properties of materials, or effects of weather and friction; other constraints limit choices in the design, for example, environmental protection, human safety, and aesthetics.
  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot.

History and Nature of Science — Content Standard G

Science as a Human Endeavor

  • Some scientists work in teams, and some work alone, but all communicate extensively with others.


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Last updated
February 17, 2005