Children ages 10 and up work in teams to assess environmental conditions, resources, and scientific relevance of different locations on the Moon using data collected from previous lunar missions. Each team selects the site they believe has the best potential for a future lunar outpost. The teams debate their conclusions and work together to determine which single site to recommend to NASA. This 1 –1 1/2-hour activity can be divided into parts.
The children should be familiar with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission and the lunar environment through other Explore! To the Moon and Beyond activities or through an introductory presentation (1.2 MB PowerPoint: Download free viewer).
What's the Point?
- The Moon is an extreme environment; it has no atmosphere or liquid water, its temperatures are much colder and much hotter than Earth's, radiation from the Sun poses a danger to the human body.
- Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSR) exist near the lunar poles and these regions may have water ice that can be used as a resource for water and for fuel.
- Different lunar locations contain different resources, based, in part, on the types of rocks and lunar regolith present.
- Different lunar locations offer opportunities to undertake different scientific and engineering investigations.
- Each potential future habitation site on the Moon has strengths and weaknesses; selection of a site will be a balance between risk, resources, and mission objectives.
- NASA's LRO mission is collecting data that will help scientists and engineers determine the location of resources.
For the group:
- 10 sheets of poster board or 5 large sheets of butcher paper to cover a section of the wall
- 1 copy of Site Information Sheets
- Tape or glue
- Poster paper for collecting ideas (or other writing space)
For each team of 3 to 4 children:
- 1 Mission Information Packet on cardstock
- Colored dots in three different colors or colored markers or crayons
For the facilitator:
- Determine a location for each of the five lunar sites. Site locations should be large enough to be used as a discussion place by one or two teams.
- Print the Site Information Sheets. For each site, compose a colorful, playful poster displaying the information. Hang the posters in the selected locations
- Introduce the children to the challenge! We know quite a bit about the Moon.Data from previous spacecraft missions and samples and information returned by the Apollo astronauts have helped scientists and engineers build an understanding of the Moon's history and environment — and have led to more questions about how our Moon formed and evolved, what resources exist, and where we can find them. This experience will help us prepare to investigate other bodies in the Solar System.
Right now, several sites for a future outpost have been proposed by scientists and engineers. More information will be needed to make a final determination. In 2009, NASA sent a spacecraft — the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) — to orbit the Moon and collect more detailed science information that will help them learn more about the Moon. The LRO carries several instruments onboard, each designed to collect different information about the lunar environment, including temperature, topography (elevation), radiation, and resources such as the possibility of water ice in permanently shadowed regions.
For this activity, each team's mission is to gather information about different lunar locations and determine the most promising site for a future human lunar outpost. Picking one site on the Moon is a balance between the resources available, really cool science, ability to move around the site, and safety considerations. As a group, the teams will debate the pros and cons of the sites they chose — just like their NASA counterparts! — and determine one site to recommend to NASA as the location for a future base.
- Divide the children into teams of three to four and provide each team with a Mission Information Packet and colored dots or colored pencils or markers. Have them select team names and review the information.
- Invite the teams to begin their investigations. Each team begins by discussing their strategy — which location should they study first? Together the team goes to the site and reviews the data. They determine if the data support a possible human lunar outpost, do not support future human activity, or if more data are needed from future missions before they can decide. The teams each mark their Moon Matrix accordingly — one color of dot if the site is a "go"; another if it is a "no," and a third for "more data needed." The LRO mission is collecting more data to help scientists and engineers make these determinations!
When finished with a particular set of information at a particular site, the team determines which site to visit next and proceeds to that location.
- After the teams finish reviewing the site information, have them regroup. Allow a few minutes for individual teams to determine which site to recommend and to complete their information cards. Remind them that site determination is not solely about resources or engineering challenges; the types of science questions that can be addressed are important parts of the discussion, too!
- Invite each team to share their conclusions. On a whiteboard or poster paper, keep track of which sites are recommended by each team and why.
Remind them that they need to make one recommendation as a whole group — and that their discussion is very similar to how NASA scientists and engineers debate where robots, orbiters, and humans should go!
If there are multiple sites recommended, invite the children to debate the attributes of each and determine which one ultimately should be recommended.
Looking for a bigger challenge? Invite the teams to find information about other sites for which they may want to propose a lunar base.