Living on Earth is something we take for granted: our population is rapidly growing and we’re consuming more resources than our planet can provide and than we, as humans, can produce. While space has always sparked wonder and debate, research and development is progressing at a rapid rate as we look to space and other planets not only for somewhere to live, but also to provide a base for further exploration.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, and to celebrate, the Airbus Foundation launched a "Design a Moon Camp" competition through its Discovery Space, challenging students to design a 3D model of a settlement on the Moon. This not only provides a fantastic opportunity to get students thinking about how science and engineering could help us to live on another world, but it is also a theme that can be explored in many other subjects, like English, psychology, PSHE, maths, science, art and technology. When designing their Moon camp, pupils must consider human needs, and ensure that not only does it look impressive, but also that it’s functional, too.
Biology and physics
Obviously, nothing is more important than staying alive, so the designs will need to address the physiological needs of humans. From a biological perspective, how will oxygen be produced and how will it be provided to the environment where people live? How will food be grown, stored or replicated? How will we eat and drink in space? Where will people sleep, work, eat and use the toilet?
The Moon Camp will need to provide a living space safe from the vacuum of space outside, but humans also need to feel safe and protected inside. Who knows what conditions are like in space from day to day, so how will the camp look? Will it be protected by asteroid-proof panels, will it be covered in solar panels to supply the power or will it be a glass structure, so the citizens can admire the moonscape outside?
PSHE and psychology
We may think of people in space simply working but, when they live there, how will they form relationships or families? In PSHE, students could also consider how the people living on other planets can experience creative activities and self-expression, so they can be happy and fulfilled. Perhaps students could design a park or other area where people could socialise and relax.
How will the camp help to maintain the need for knowledge and understanding once on the Moon? The psychological needs of the inhabitants should be considered. Have your students designed spaces to accommodate schools, libraries or learning opportunities in the design? How will they meet the aesthetic needs, such as the search for beauty, balance, form, etc? How could this be provided on the Moon where there are none of the parks, shops, theatres, cinemas or art galleries that we have on Earth?
No matter how amazing your students’ 3D models look, if they can’t support human life at a basic level then, ultimately, they won’t work. Ask your students to try and imagine moving to another planet. What would they need to take, who would they want to be with and what could they not live without? These answers would then need to be factored into the design, as well as considering how they might get there, and back again.
Using physics to understand gravity
Will your students’ Moon Camp design take into account the reduced gravity of the Moon, or will it have artificial gravity, so people can live like they do on Earth? Perhaps there are advantages to the body of not having the Earth’s gravity weighing down on it every hour of the day, but also consider how to keep the inhabitants safely on the moon and avoid ending up in the gravity-free space beyond. Bear this in mind when students are designing the sleeping, living and working spaces (especially the toilets!). A great challenge might be to design a toilet that works without the gravity we know on Earth. Testing how it might work with a solid object on a string to simulate limited gravity is sure to amuse and captivate while addressing a genuine problem. They can also consider how the activities we do on Earth might work differently on the Moon with a sixth of the gravity. Imagine how buildings could be constructed when the materials weigh much less. This is a great way of covering science and technology in Stem lessons.
Art, design and technology
Your students should now have a range of things to consider, and they can get to the real fun part of designing and modelling the Moon Camp. As people there will be spending more time inside, what will the interiors look like? Will they have work areas and play areas? Could they have sports facilities such as courts, swimming pools and tracks? If pupils are working in a team, some could concentrate on the exterior architecture while others focus on the interior. Using technology, how will their design accomplish all the features designed so far and how can we ensure that people stay safe inside while the vacuum of space is kept outside? Ask students to come up with some ideas and designs for how we can feel safe and protected, especially on a strange new planet that is nothing like Earth. This is a good chance to get some model-making done so the ideas can be visualized in 3D.
Putting it all together
If you have enough students involved, assign different parts of the Moon Camp to different team members – this is great for building teamwork skills. Decide on some common elements, such as what the different parts of the habitat will look like, how they can be joined to each other and to other elements such as space ports where spaceships can land and take off. Then your teams can work to bring all this together in one amazing design. Also think about how people might travel around the surface of the planet – after all, they can’t drive cars like we do on earth.
This is a unique opportunity to reflect on what makes our planet unique and beautiful as well as how it provides us with life. In moving to another planet, we not only need to replicate that which supports our bodies but also the beauty and creativity that enriches our minds and our quality of life.
Paul Woodward is the head of creative arts at a large independent school in the North of England. He has taught and led D&T in a variety of schools as well as working as a designer, examiner, moderator, resource author and D&T consultant
Join the competition and read the guidelines, here.