Life in a Sealed Container
Investigation: What are the necessary characteristics of an ecosystem that will support humans as they live on the moon or Mars?

Have you ever thought about what it takes to live on the International Space Station for six months, or on a space shuttle mission for two weeks, or even in a spacesuit in space for several hours? The space station, space shuttles and spacesuits are artificial habitats that supply the requirements for humans to safely live and work in space. Conceptual drawing of a Mars habitat which includes greenhouses

This artist's concept shows how a Mars habitat might look. Image Credit: NASA

But what about exploration missions to the moon or Mars? Initially, missions to the moon will be short stays, but eventually crews will live in lunar outposts for extended periods of time. Missions to Mars may last two to three years -- or longer. Resupply to remote outposts would not be practical or desirable.

How can habitats on Mars support humans living and working for long periods of time? One way to begin to answer this question is to ask how Earth meets human needs. In this module, students will learn about Earth ecosystems and how ecosystems work. Then they learn about the technology used by NASA that will allow humans to live in sealed habitats in space, on the moon and eventually on Mars.

Assessment Task
Students will design an ecosystem in a sealed container and explain why it should be successful on the moon or Mars.
Download Formative Assessment Rubric (PDF)

Content Area Resources
The following Web resources are provided to assist you in facilitating inquiry-based learning and to address the investigative questions for this unit. Some of the resources are on NASA Web sites and others are not. Web sites that are external to are indicated with an arrow. Some items may be in PDF format. Recommended grade levels are indicated whenever they are specified in the resource.

Discover What Makes a Balanced Ecosystem
Lesson Plan: Discovering What Makes a Balanced Ecosystem (4-9)  →
Student Handout: Interdependence in the Aquarium (4-9)  →

Describe Elements of a Balanced Ecosystem
NASA's Space Place Recipe for an EcoSphere (7-8)  →

Explore Physical Characteristics of Soil and How Different Soil Supports Plant Growth
Getting Dirty on Mars Teaching Tips (Teacher's Guide) (PDF)  →
Student Guide: Getting Dirty on Mars (5-12) (PDF)  →
Getting Dirty on Mars Lab Cards (5-12) (PDF)   →

How NASA Scientists Are Learning to Grow Plants for Space Exploration
Read brief articles and use these short lessons to help students understand how NASA scientists are learning how to grow plants for space exploration.
LEO Then Beyond Web Site (Teacher Resource)  →
Hydroponic Systems Activity (9-12)   →
Greenhouses for Mars (8-9)   →
Leafy Green Astronauts (12)   →
Growing Lettuce for Mars, Arctic Style (12)   →
NASA Fact Sheet: Lunar Living -- The Next Giant Leap (PDF) (12)
Fruits for Their Labor (12)
The Strawberry Connection (12)
Plant Growth Chamber Photo Gallery
Growing the Future: Plants in Space Video

Design, Build and Evaluate Lunar Plant Growth Chambers
Students design, build and evaluate lunar plant growth chambers -- while engaging in research- and standards-based learning experiences. Students participate in the engineering design process and learn how to conduct a scientific experiment.
Moon Munchies Educator Guide (K-4)

This design challenge could be used as an assessment.
Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber Web Site

Encourage students to work together as scientists, engineers, artists and civic leaders to design and share a futuristic Mars community.
Imagine Mars Web Site (Includes a teacher's guide and interactive student sections.) (K-8)  →
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