Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
To the Moon and Beyond From Apollo to the Future

Build an LRO


Children ages 5 to 10 create their own models of lunar orbiters out of edible or nonedible materials in this 30–45-minute activity. They determine what tools would be necessary to help us better understand the Moon. Then they incorporate these elements into their models. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently orbiting the Moon, is used as an example of a spacecraft armed with "eyes," "ears," and other tools for exploration.

What's the Point?


For the group:

For each child:

For the facilitator:



1. Share that NASA wants to learn more about the Moon to prepare for future explorations. Because it's expensive to send humans, it's important to learn more about the Moon with robotic explorers. These robots aren't like those we see in movies, with eyes, hands, and legs, but rather spacecraft that have many instruments pointed at the Moon's surface to look for water ice and elements in rocks, map where the surface is safe for landing and building, and find where scientific questions about the Moon's formation and changes can best be studied. All these activities will prepare future astronauts — the children in your program! — to explore the Solar System!

2. Share with the children that they will be making their own lunar orbiters! Discuss what features they will need to design for their models.

Orbiters operate from high above the Moon's surface, so they won't be able to mimic the senses of touch or taste, and with no air for sounds to pass through, there is no need for "ears." They are, however, able to "see" with different kinds of "eyes" that detect types of light that are not visible to human eyes. Spacecrafts use the light of the Sun and stars, which reflects off the Moon's surface, in addition to their own lasers and radar to "see."

3. Share with the children the artist's drawings of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft that is currently exploring the Moon from orbit.

Future explorers will need maps of the Moon to help find smooth places to land and build habitats and to find resources like types of rocks and water ice. LRO's instruments will show scientists features as small as a foot-and-a-half across.

4. Invite the "engineers" to build their lunar orbiters! Provide edible or nonedible materials and prompt them to keep in mind important elements to include in their designs.

5. Invite the children to share their spacecraft designs and how they will help humans return to the Moon.


Explain that many NASA engineers and scientists worked together to plan, build, and launch the LRO. They, too, had to decide what tools to give the spacecraft. Many instruments were proposed by different teams of scientists and engineers, but not all could be selected because the spacecraft has a limited amount of space for the instruments to be mounted; it can carry only a certain weight, and there is a limited budget for developing the instruments. There is always a balance between what scientists would like to test and what is possible. The specific instruments were selected to help scientists and engineers meet the objectives of the mission — to characterize the lunar surface and environment to prepare for future human missions. Some are new and others build on successful technology used on other spacecraft. They provide scientists and engineers with information that is not available or with more detailed information than what has been collected in earlier missions.

Invite the children to eat their edible spacecrafts — or to take the nonedible spacecrafts home!