Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Space Exploration

Build a Colony


Children ages 8 to 13 consider the requirements for human life beyond Earth's protection and work in teams to design and construct a model of a space colony out of craft materials.

What's the Point?


For each group of three to four:

For the group:

For the facilitator:


  1. Optional: Introduce space colonies by reading a fictional story or news article about space colonies.
  2. Discuss the basic requirements for life. Have the children brainstorm to come up with a list of things required for humans to live a comfortable life on Earth. If desired, write their suggestions on a board or on chart paper.
    • What do you need to survive? In addition to their ideas about survival needs like food, water, shelter, and air, the children may also add human-specific items such as family, recreation/entertainment, communication, and transportation.
    • How does Earth provide them with these in their daily lives? Earth's atmosphere provides air, and water cycles through the ground, air, oceans, and waterways. Farms and ranches, in addition to hunting, provide food. We build shelters from materials in our environment for protection against excessive ultraviolet radiation, extremes of temperature, and predators.
  3. Summarize that the three requirements for all Earth life are a source of energy, chemical nutrients, and water. Food is a term that encompasses both energy and chemical nutrients. An organism requires an environment that supplies these requirements on a continual basis. Not all life on Earth requires air to survive, but humans must have air to breathe.

    Facilitator's Note: The point in this step is to connect the requirements of life to Earth's conditions, resources, and systems. Any spaceship or colony must reproduce the conditions for which human life is adapted — requiring air to breathe, plentiful food, shielding from ultraviolet light, power, etc. Draw as much as possible from the children. It is less important for the list to be exhaustive than to plant the idea of our connection to Earth.

  4. Discuss the basic requirements of a space colony for supporting human life beyond Earth.
    • What is the Moon or Mars like? The children may have many ideas.

The average temperatures are well below 0°F at night (although the Moon can also be very hot in the day); there are high levels of solar radiation, which can damage body tissues; there is little or no atmosphere; and there are no sources of food or water. However, both the Moon and Mars have gravity that will hold humans to their surfaces while they live and explore there.

  1. Divide the children into groups of three to four and ask them to plan their colonies. Ask the children to how they will meet the basic requirements for food, shelter, electricity, communication, and entertainment with their designs.

  2. Facilitator's Note: This discussion will help children focus on the elements they must ensure are included in their design. Let the children lead as much as possible. You want to avoid lecturing or being seen as the sole source of information. Limit the length of the discussion based on your time needs. However, make sure that children identify the major elements.
    Their space colonies might include:

    • Habitation Modules – Living quarters that may include showers, private rooms, eating areas, etc.
    • Laboratory Modules – Work quarters where the crew conducts experiments.
    • Greenhouses – Used to grow food and contribute to the oxygen environment; also a way to use excess carbon dioxide.
    • Solar Arrays – Used to collect and store electricity to power various systems and activities.
    • Antennas – Used for communications back to Earth and with other spacecraft.
    • Surface Rovers – Pressurized rovers for long trips and open rovers for short trips.
    • Resource Utilization Facilities – Used to mine the resources of the Moon or planet for use in the base or for manufacturing propellant (fuel) for space ships.
    • Docking Facilities – Used for supply ships.
    • Escape System –Used in case of an emergency.

  3. Construct the space colonies! Have the children choose either the Moon or Mars as the location for their base. Alternatively, select the location for them. Provide each group with a large table and a piece of cardboard to represent the lunar or Mars terrain. Have children use the materials to design and construct a space habitat that can provide these requirements. Invite the groups to work individually or in teams on the different parts of the base. Each child should contribute one or more modules to the final design. Invite the children to discuss the scale of the modules so that they will relate to each other. For example, one inch equals one foot (or two), depending on the size of your table and base area cardboard. Everyone needs to construct his or her sections at the same scale. Have them label their habitats, denoting the function of each area.


After the base is complete, have the teams present their part to the rest of the group, noting the dimensions, equipment, layout, purpose, etc.

Optional: Take photos of each space colony and its designers! Create a display.