Hands-on Activity Space Shelter

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 1 hours 45 minutes

(can be split into two 50-minute sessions)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 1

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle


Students are given the following engineering challenge: "The invasion has taken place and we need to find a new home. To ensure your survival beyond Earth's occupation you must design a shelter that can be built on another planet." Then students research the characteristics of a planet of their choosing. They design shelter that enables them to survive on a new planet, and explain it in words to the rest of the class. This is a great activity to add to a unit on the solar system.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Photo shows a person in a spacesuit floating in the black atmosphere above the curve of the planet Earth below.
Students create shelters to live on another planet
Copyright © Microsoft Corporation, 1983-2001

Engineering Connection

If it were necessary to build shelter on another planet, many types of engineers would be involved. Civil and environmental engineers would design the structure, while electrical and mechanical engineers would design power sources for the shelter. Depending on the planet and the shelter complexity, other types of engineers, such as materials, computer, biomedical, environmental and chemical engineers, would be involved in the project, too.

Learning Objectives

  • Research skills
  • Knowledge of planets
  • Application of research results
  • Design techniques
  • Presentation skills

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Obtain and combine information from books and/or other reliable media to explain phenomena or solutions to a design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

Knowledge of relevant scientific concepts and research findings is important in engineering.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Explain how various relationships can exist between technology and engineering and other content areas. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Identify a problem that reflects the need for shelter, storage, or convenience. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Recognize that the earth is part of a system called the "solar system" that includes the sun (a star), planets, and many moons. The earth is the third planet from the sun in our solar system. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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Materials List

  • library books or textbooks about the planets
  • paper, pens, markers
  • (optional) internet access
  • (optional) Microsoft PowerPoint® software

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/space_shelter] to print or download.


Imagine what it would be like to live on another planet!

The conditions on Earth are very different from the other planets of our solar system. Earth has an atmosphere abundant with oxygen for us to breathe, fresh water for us to drink, sunshine and soil that enables us to grow food to eat, and resources that provide energy.

The Earth has been a successful biosphere for more than 3.8 billion years. But if the human race was forced to leave its planet, how would we adapt to living on another planet? Think of what you would need to survive, such as food, water, oxygen, energy and shelter.

What questions come to mind? How would you create air, water, energy and food supplies on the new planet? What would you take with you from Earth and how would you get to your new home? What are the conditions on the new planet (temperature, weather, climate, etc.)? How would you build a shelter to protect you from your new environment?

If this ever happened, we would call on engineers to help us to address a challenge like this. They would find solutions to help the human race survive on a new planet.


Recommended Resources

About astronauts living in space on the shuttle: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/stem-on-station/dayinthelife

More on living in space, requirements, etc.: http://www.pbs.org/spacestation/station/living.htm

Biospheres and cool stuff about them: http://www.biospherics.org/

Before the Activity

  • Make copies of the research handout and grading rubric, one each per student.
  • Decide whether to assign or let students choose planets to research.
  • Decide if you want students to work in groups or individually.
  • Provide textbooks, library books and/or Internet access for student research.

With the Students

The engineering challenge: The Earth has just been invaded by aliens, and humans must relocate to another planet. To ensure your survival beyond Earth's occupation you must design a shelter that can be built on another planet. You will also have to consider how to get to your new or chosen planet from Earth, and five items that you will take and why you need them.

  1. Pick a planet that you would like to move to. Research this planet and find out about the new environment in which you will live. Some things to think about for survival are climate, atmosphere composition, surface composition, day length, distance from the sun, force of gravity, etc. (see the handout prompts). The brightness of sunshine of the chosen planet depends on it's distance from the sun. The students will find the relative brightness of the sun, compared to the earth. They must understand powers, and that a number squared (n2) means the number multiplied by itself once (n*n). The brightness decreases at the square of the distance, meaning it gets exponentially dimmer with distance from the sun.
  2. Design an ideal shelter that would enable you to survive on the new planet. Explain the characteristics of your house, including materials used and special design features. You may need to design new materials to survive the harsh environments of other planets.
  3. Present your design to the class (this could be done in PowerPoint® presentation). Make the focus of the presentation the shelter design and the feasibility of human survival (this decreases the redundancy of presentations when many students pick the same planet).

Assign students the homework writing project, as described in the Assessment section.


Class Presentations: Evaluate students' work by using the attached Rubric for Performance Assessment to assess their presentations, designs and research skills.

Homework: After the presentation, assign students to write a journal entry in response to the following prompt: Once you have designed your shelter, consider what five items you would take with you and why.

Investigating Questions

  • Why did you choose that planet?
  • What features of your design will help you to survive on your planet?
  • Why do people not live on that planet now?
  • Where is a good place to find information about planets?


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© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: June 13, 2021

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