Student Features

Lunar Learning
01.09.08
Plants will be an important part of future space exploration. NASA plans to return to the moon. The trips will take a long time. Astronauts may be able to grow plants on the moon. The plants could be made into food for astronauts to eat.

Third-graders at Oak Hills Terrace Elementary School design plant growth chambers

Third-graders at Oak Hills Terrace Elementary School design plant growth chambers. Image Credit: NASA

There is a lot to learn about how astronauts might grow plants on the moon. Students are helping NASA learn through an Engineering Design Challenge. NASA is asking students to plan a lunar plant growth chamber. This is just a box that plants grow in. Students can then build their own box and grow plants in it to see if it works.

Third-graders in Texas are making plant growth chambers for the NASA project. They go to Oak Hills Terrace Elementary School.

Students first learned what life is like in space and on the moon. Their teacher taught them how living things, such as astronauts and plants, live in space. She taught them that water acts in a different way in places that have less gravity than Earth. So, growing plants in space is not the same as growing plants on Earth.

Students are working in four groups. They are making their own plant growth chambers.

The groups first planned a way to water plants inside their growth chamber. Students had a lot of ideas. Eight-year-old Logan said his group had so many ideas they couldn't decide which one to do. The groups talked about all of their ideas and each one decided on a watering system for their group.

Three students talking and drawing on paper

Students drew their ideas for the plant growth chambers on paper first and then discussed which designs would work best. Image Credit: NASA

One group is using a syringe to push air and water into a tube in the soil. Another group is using a water-filled sponge placed under the soil. Students pull a string around the sponge to squeeze the water out of the sponge and into the soil.

Another group is going to put water into the chamber and then turn the chamber upside down. The fourth plan has a large syringe connected to a bag of water that squeezes air into the bag. The air pushes the water into a tube in the soil.

"They have just been so creative in this," their teacher said. "It's been interesting watching them, seeing what they come up with."

To make their chambers, students used foil, yarn, sponges, plastic food bowls, tape, plastic water bottles, plant holders, drinking straws and syringes. Students learned about circuits and electricity. They used what they learned to make a light for their chambers.

Students said the project is hard to do but fun. Daniel said making the chamber was hard, but his group worked together to solve the problems that came up. Evan said it was hard to make the circuit for the light source. "Others helped me out and gave me ideas," he said.

The groups are testing their designs. This is an important part of designing anything. If there is a problem with their designs, students may have to make changes. "They know they're going to have to go back and make changes to it," their teacher said. "They keep saying they have this feeling they've left something out."

Students construct plant growth chambers out of household items

Students construct plant growth chambers out of household items. Image Credit: NASA

Once the chambers are finished, the third-graders will turn their experiment over to the kindergarteners to test. The kindergartners will plant cinnamon basil seeds in the chambers. The seeds flew in space on the STS-118 space shuttle mission. They will also plant seeds that did not fly in space.

The kindergartners will take care of the plants. They will follow instructions from the third-graders about how to water the plants and how often to put them in light.

Students will write the date the seeds are planted and the date the plants begin to grow. They will also measure and chart the plants' growth. Students will look at which seeds grow faster -- the seeds that flew in space or the seeds that stayed on Earth.

They will also see which plant growth chamber does the best and grows the biggest plants. Students are looking forward to seeing which one grows the best plants.

Related Resources
NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber
STS-118 Shuttle Mission
NASA Explorer Schools   →
NASA Education Web site   →


Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services Team