Hands-on Activity: My Moon Colony

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
A full moon seen from Denmark.
Students create a moon colony


Students are introduced to the futuristic concept of the moon as a place people can inhabit. They brainstorm what people would need to live on the moon and then design a fantastic Moon colony and decide how to power it. Students use the engineering design process, which includes researching various types of energy sources and evaluating which would be best for their moon colonies.

Engineering Connection

Can we ever live on the moon? Well, to make such a project possible, engineers of all disciplines must work together to imagine, design, create and test advanced technologies to enable us to inhabit the moon. Today's engineers are moving a step in the right direction: they are already designing renewable energy sources that can be used in space.

Educational Standards

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:
  • Use the engineering design process to determine an appropriate solution for powering a moon colony.
  • Explain at least three ways that energy can be produced.
  • Recognize that advanced technology would be needed for humans to inhabit the moon.

Materials List

Each group needs:
  • basic writing materials (graph paper, pencils, etc.)
  • basic drawing supplies (compass, ruler, protractor, etc.)
  • 1 poster board


So far, you have made a list of activities you do in a typical day. Now, let's pretend that you were living on the moon, and had to do these same activities there. How would they be different? What would they be similar? (Give students a few minutes to share ideas about what life would be like on the moon.) Okay, go ahead and look at your list with your group and put a circle around all of the activities that require electricity. How many of you have more than five activities that require electricity? (Expect most students to raise their hands.) More than 10? More than 20? What is the highest number? Wow! Look at how many everyday activities require electricity!
Let's think about how you could do these activities on the moon. Since no electricity exists there now, engineers would have to devise a way to generate electrical power. How is electricity generated on Earth today? (Solicit answers that should include fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar power, wind energy, and hydroelectric power.) In the next activity, your team will design a moon colony and propose a source of power so that its residents can continue with the same kinds of activities that they do here on Earth.
Can we realistically transport fuel from Earth to the Moon in order to provide power for our activities that require electricity? These are just a few examples of the types of questions that engineers are asking at this very moment as they think about creating an inhabitable environment on the Moon.
With no atmosphere or water on the Moon, wind and water energy seem out of the question. So, just to power a small colony on the Moon would be a big engineering challenge; imagine if the colony were huge, like the size of Denver, Los Angeles or New York City. Being so different from life on Earth will take a lot of hard work in order to successfully design, build and run a community on the Moon.


A device that makes electricity.
The engineering concept that something positive about the technology will almost always be offset by something negative; engineers choose design solutions that offer more positives than negatives.


Before the Activity

  • Gather materials: poster boards, rulers and compasses for drawing scale Moon colony models.

With the Students

  1. Divide the class into groups of three students each. Tell them that today they are each engineering firms responsible for designing a moon colony and coming up with a way to provide power to that colony. This self-sufficient colony should provide its citizens with the necessities to engage in the kind of everyday activities that students listed at the beginning of class.
  2. Tell students to use the engineering design process to design their Moon colonies. The following steps lead students through the engineering design process in about 45 minutes. Circulate from group to group to check their progress and move them along if they are lagging behind. It is helpful to periodically announce to the entire class which step of the design process they should be working on by that point.
Step 1: Recognize the Customer (5 min) - Who has hired you to design a Moon colony and create its power source? They are your customers. Briefly describe your customers, including the size of the group and where they currently live. As a team, use pencils to draw on your poster board a sketch of the colony; draw it as if you are looking down on the colony. You have only five minutes for the sketch, so do not be overly detailed.
Step 2: Define the Problem (5 min) - In addition to the design of the Moon colony, you have been asked to create a power source for your colony inhabitants. An important aspect of engineering design is to define your design requirements (rules that your product must follow). Engineers often define constraints such as how much "it" should cost, its size, and/or its weight limit .
For this challenge, you must also think about your power/electricity requirements, especially now that you know what your colony looks like. With your group, come up with five design requirements for a power generator (your power source). Here are two ideas to get you started:
  • Materials must be able to be transported from the Earth to the Moon.
  • Wind cannot be a source of energy since no atmosphere exists on the Moon.
Step 3: Gather Information (15 min) - Before engineers start designing a new product, they conduct extensive background research. For your project, it is essential to learn about different energy sources. Since we know of many ways to produce energy (for eample, biomass, coal, geothermal, hydropower, natural gas, petroleum, propane, solar, nuclear and wind), each group will investigate one of type of energy generation. (Assign each group one type from the list; if you have more groups than topics, assign two groups the same topic.)
After your research, we will come back together to share our discoveries. Real engineers often divide work among their teams, too, so that they may save time. You have 15 minutes to gather the following information about your energy source and write it on a poster board.
  • Briefly describe how energy is generated. Include pictures and words on your poster to make the description clear to the rest of the class. Relate the energy source to your colony sketch, as appropriate (for example, if the sun is your team's source of energy, then perhaps you include solar panels in the design of your colony structures).
  • Make lists of the "pros" and "cons" of this technology as it relates to the moon. For example, a "pro" might be that it is inexpensive, while a "con" might be that it weighs a lot and would be hard to transport to the Moon. These lists are known as "trade-offs" in the engineering community. Later, the positive aspects of the technology will have to be weighed against any the negative aspects.
  • Descriptions of each type of energy source are provided by the Department of Energy and can be found online in the Intermediate Energy Infobook at: http://www.need.org/needpdf/Intermediate%20Infobook%20Activities.pdf. (Do not allow students to get delayed with this part of the activity with difficulties in website access. If students do not have access to the internet or there is only one computer, print out appropriate information pages in advance.)
Step 4: Share Information (5 min) - Have one representative from each team take approximately 1 minute (or more if time allows) to present their group's research to the rest of the class.
Step 5: Propose & Choose Design Options (10 min) - Using your list of design requirements and the information you have gathered, brainstorm ideas for power sources that might work on the Moon. There is no right or wrong answer, but your design must be able to work on the Moon, which does not have exactly the same resources as the Earth. Here are some things to think about as you work on your design:
  • What resources are available on the Moon that you can utilize?
  • Will you have to ship materials from Earth? If so, what?
When your group has come to an agreement, write a short proposal to NASA that presents the design and explains why you think it will be a good design. Include some of the trade-offs that you considered. Explain why the positive features of your design outweigh the negative features.
Step 6: Communicate Design (5 min) - Have a group representative read the design to the rest of the class.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Brainstorming: As a group, think of all the things you did today, from the moment you woke up until the moment you walked into the school's front door. (Give students three minutes to write down as many activities as they can remember.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Poster: Students present their design plans and justify their thought processes.

Post-Activity Assessment

Voting/Discussion: After hearing all the presentations, have students get back together with their groups and decide as a team which plan was best and why. Designate a spokesperson for the group who can briefly tell the class which plan worked best (encourage the students to choose another group's plan, not their own).

Activity Extensions

Students can learn more about how energy is produced on Earth, which will help them make more informed decisions about their design for the Moon. Energy Education for the 21st Century (http://www.pspb.org/e21/about.html) offers an energy lesson plan explaining the "parts, process and products" of generating electricity.
Through the Environmental Protection Agency's online service, students can calculate how much energy they use in their own homes to make a better prediction about what their energy needs would be on the Moon. The Home Energy Yardstick (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_index_tools) helps calculate home energy usage. (Note: To complete this activity a consecutive 12-month cycle of a family's home energy bill is required.
Have students build a device that enables citizens of their lunar colony to cook a meal on the Moon without actually generating electricity. Energy Education for the 21st Century shows students how to make a solar cooker using the Sun's rays. Have students visit http://www.pspb.org/e21/media/SolarCooker.html for more information on this activity.
Students can listen to a podcast about harvesting solar energy from the Moon and directing it back to Earth for our energy needs. The Science NetLinks website, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provides a transcript and analysis of the podcast, plus questions for students to answer: http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/sci_update.cfm?DocID=144.

Activity Scaling

For lower grades, use the Elementary Energy Infobook (http://www.need.org/needpdf/Elementary%20Energy%20Infobook.pdf) instead of the Intermediate Energy Infobook, and complete the Gather Information step as a class. Choose only a few energy sources to study (such as wind, solar, biomass and petroleum).
For upper grades, use the Secondary Energy Infobook (http://www.need.org/needpdf/Secondary%20Energy%20Infobook.pdf), instead of the Intermediate Energy Infobook. Expand the Gather Information step to include more in-depth research. Have students write longer individual proposals to NASA as homework assignments; also require that they calculate their home energy usage using the Home Energy Yardstick (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_index_tools) and applying their knowledge of their use to justify their proposed designs.


National Renewable Energy Laboratory, "Student Resources on Renewable Energy," July 25, 2008, accessed February 16, 2009. http://www.nrel.gov/learning/student_resources.html


Brian Kay, Jessica Todd, Sam Semakula, Jessica Butterfield, Karen King, Janet Yowell


© 2008 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: November 26, 2015

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