Space Design Challenge

Art Engineering NASA Science
Time 45-90 minutes
Age 7 and up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Art, Astronomy, Design,   more...
Minimal Materials NASA Planets Product Rockets Science Solar System Space Structures Teamwork

What would you pack on a trip to Neptune?

Design challenges are a great way for kids to develop a range of skills, like problem solving, communicating, observing, comparing, measuring, estimating, and lots more. This challenge, which is best for your older students, also asks children to examine properties of materials, practice engineering design, and learn about the properties of planets in our solar system.


This activity is best for students ages 8 and up, though you could certainly run it with younger children, with some adaptation.

Before the session starts, decide what planet you would like to have students concentrate on for this session. It could be one or more than one. Review the Planet Facts before you decide. You could also have your students vote on the chosen planet, if you’d like; or, you could even review all of the planets with the whole group, and let individual teams decide which planet they would like to focus on.

Print out a copy of the Planet Facts sheets (click here) for each team. Alternatively, you can pick a few of the facts to write down on a piece of chart paper, whiteboard, etc. where everyone can see them. These facts are intended to help inspire ideas in your children’s designs. For younger children, a long list of facts might be distracting, so gauge your class and choose accordingly.

Space Design Challenge

Suggested Materials


Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Ask your students if they have ever heard the word “design” before. What does it mean to design something?

Design is creative problem-solving. Designers figure out a need (for example, creating a helmet that can protect kids while they ride their bikes); and they try to solve that challenge in the best way that they can. For example, a helmet for kids has to be strong, but can’t be too heavy. It can’t be so expensive that no one could buy it. And it can’t be made out of a material that is very hard to find. It has to feel comfortable to wear, and it even should look good. There are lots of design factors that designers need to think about!

Choose an object in your classroom that was designed (should be easy…if it’s not an apple, a hamster or something else natural…then someone designed it). Ask your students to answer these questions about it:

Tell your students that you would like them to design a home/habitat, a form of transportation, an outfit, or an object that accomplishes a task (you can choose one of these ahead of time, or have each team choose one).

The Challenge

Create a habitat, form of transportation, object, or outfit to be used on an imaginary trip to one of the planets.


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Divide the group into teams of 2-4. You can also have children work alone, if necessary, though this activity works better as a team challenge. As always, make sure that everyone’s ideas in each team are being heard.
  2. Distribute the Planet Fact Sheets to each team, and have them read the facts together. For younger students, you can read them aloud. Ask your students how some of the features of each planet make them different from Earth. What kinds of challenges would these features present to someone visiting there?
  3. Ask students to share out what they think will be the biggest challenges to designing for their planet. i.e. No solid surface to build on, really cold, etc., and write these down on a piece of chart paper or dry erase board.
  4. Have each team choose a home, a form of transportation, an object that accomplishes a task, or an outfit to design for the planet.
  5. Have teams work on their designs for 15-20 minutes. Walk around from team to team, and ask them questions in order to help them get going. What might you want to do on the planet (visit different places, pick up rocks, take pictures, eat dinner, etc.)? Designs can be made in the form of sketches, words, or both.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

Once each team has a few ideas on paper, bring the larger group together to talk about their ideas (alternatively, some afterschools running this activity have had teams pair up, and share ideas and challenges with each other, rather than having a whole group discussion. After the activity was done, they held a large group sharing session). Ask teams to share the following with each other:

  1. What are they making?
  2. What are their early ideas for how to make it?
  3. What challenges do they need to meet on their planet (it really hot, it’s really rocky, etc.)?
  4. What questions or challenges do they still have that they haven’t figured out yet?

Give them a few minutes to talk together about how they’ll present this information, then give each team time to present. Encourage other teams to ask questions, and even challenge choices. You can do the same, if kids aren’t generating any questions. Refer to the earlier list of challenges (step 3 above) as you ask them questions. After each team has presented, send them back to their designs.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Have teams continue to work on their designs until they are done. If you think it would be helpful, you can bring the larger group together for another presentation/brainstorming session, with each team talking about the challenges they haven’t figured out yet. Once each team has completed their design, have them all present their creations to the larger group. Make sure they mention what their creation does, what it is made of, any choices they made around color, shape, etc.


  • Now that you have designed something – try to build it! Use recycled materials, boxes, anything else you have around to create a 3-d model of the items your children designed on paper.
  • Try this activity again with different planets each time.
  • Visit NASA’s website for some incredible images of the planets ( You can also check out the NASA Inspirations images (click here) included in this curriculum.
  • NASA also has loads of information on what people wear, travel in, or live in during space travel. Visit to find all of this information. You can also find countless videos, images, and articles online for students to use as inspiration and research, including:



The Future of Space Suits

By Megan Garber

NASA: The Shuttle

NASA: International Space Station Tour

Building the Future Spacesuit

  • Also, check out the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) experiment, where scientists are trying to learn more about exploring other planets through tests here on Earth:


Earth and Space science activities were developed with the support of NASA. This material is based upon work supported by NASA under grant award number NNX14AQ83G. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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