EDC 9-12 Challenge

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Become Part of Space History -- Grades 9-12

NASA Exploration Design Challenge logo

Charting Your Journey to Mars!

In Phase 1, students will study the effects of radiation on human space travelers and analyze different materials that simulate space radiation shielding for Orion. After participating in activities guided by their teachers, students will recommend materials that best block harmful radiation.

Students can take the challenge a step further and participate in Phase 2 where they will design shielding to protect a sensor inside Orion from space radiation. The winning design will be flown in Orion during Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1).

All students completing either phase of the challenge can join participants from around the world to celebrate the Exploration Flight Test-1 of Orion by having their names flown on board as virtual crew members. The deadline to submit student names for the virtual crew is June 30, 2014.

Get started. Follow the steps on this page to guide 9-12 students through activities to complete the challenge.  


The NASA Exploration Design Challenge for grades 9-12 offers two phases of involvement for teachers and students. Teachers may choose to complete one or both phases with students. 

Phase One -- Think Like a Scientist

Phase One encourages students to learn about Orion and challenges them to think like scientists to solve problems associated with human exploration. Activities and interviews with Orion scientists, engineers, and researchers set the stage for inquiry learning as students ask questions and seek answers about Orion, human exploration, space radiation, and the technology to protect humans during long-duration space flights.

Phase Two -- Solve Problems Like an Engineer

Phase Two challenges students to follow the engineering design process and work in teams to design radiation shielding to protect a sensor on the Orion crew module from space radiation.

Once designs have been completed, teams may compete for the chance to build their design and have it flown on the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). Five teams will be selected for the test phase of the challenge.

Teams not selected to test their designs are encouraged to return to the NASA Exploration Design Challenge website frequently to watch the "Ask the Experts" videos, get updates via news articles, and explore other resources as they are added to the website. The NASA EDC website will be updated to reflect the status of Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 and announce the flight date for all virtual crewmembers.

Additional activities in the Resources section may be completed to strengthen student understanding about radiation and the effects of radiation on humans. These activities include inquiry explorations, hands-on activities and interactive simulations.

Note: Participation in Phase Two of the NASA Exploration Design Challenge is limited to U.S. citizens.

Phase One: Think Like a Scientist

Step 1: Register to Participate in Exploration Design Challenge

Register before beginning the NASA Exploration Design Challenge. Registration is easy and free.

Click on the registration link. You will be taken to a National Institute of Aerospace website to complete the process. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email, which includes a link to submit student names for the virtual crew upon completion of the challenge. Please keep this email until completion of the challenge.

Exit NASA to Register
›  Register for the NASA Exploration Design Challenge  →

Step 2: Introduce the Design Challenge

A. Use the following Student Scenario to introduce students to the NASA Exploration Design Challenge for grades 9-12.

When astronauts travel through space, the space vehicle protects them from the micrometeoroid particles, which usually can be seen, and space radiation, which cannot be seen. One of the most difficult things to block is space radiation, and it is also the most deadly. For long space exploration missions, traveling beyond low Earth orbit, materials used to build the spacecraft will need to give the space explorer more protection from space radiation than what is currently provided.

NASA and Lockheed Martin are developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space and protect them during space travel beyond low Earth orbit.

B. Encourage students to ask questions about Orion and the challenges explorers will face traveling to Mars by viewing one or more of NASA's "Ask the Experts" videos found on the NASA EDC website.

Step 3: Use Inquiry to Develop Student Understanding

A. Choose lessons from the Space Faring -- The Radiation Challenge Unit to increase students' understanding of radiation and its impact on humans. Select videos from the "Ask the Experts" videos to answer student-generated questions. Dedicate the time to this work that best matches curriculum standards and student interest.

B. Students will apply what they learn about radiation in Phase Two to design solutions for the NASA EDC.

Step 4: Submit Student Names for the Virtual Flight Crew

A. Once students have completed Steps 2 and 3, please submit student names for the virtual crew by using the link on your confirmation email. If you need to have the link re-sent to you, please send an email to nasaedc@nianet.org.

These student names are added to a list of all participants in the NASA Exploration Design Challenge. The list of names will fly on the Exploration Flight Test-1 of Orion as virtual crew members. The virtual crew will be the only crew flying on Orion’s inaugural mission. The names must be submitted by June 30, 2014, to join the virtual crew.

B. After submitting these names, download certificates recognizing participation in the NASA Exploration Design Challenge. Certificates for both students and educators are available for download and may be duplicated.

C. Consider participating in Phase Two and guiding students to apply the science they have learned to engineer radiation shielding for Orion.


Phase Two: Solve Problems Like an Engineer

Important Deadlines:
Feb. 28, 2014 -- Student teams register for Phase 2 and submit solutions
TBD -- Students in Phase 2 test designs
TBD -- Students in Phase 2 build designs

Step 1: Build Collaborative Teams

A. Organize teams of 2-6 students. One member of the team may be an undergraduate student currently enrolled in a university or community college to serve as a mentor for the high school students. All other members of the team must be in grades 9-12.

B. To build a collaborative team, guide each team through these two tasks.

Step 2: Design

Help teams set up a Design Project Notebook to document their work. Use the Middle School and High School Design Packet  [620KB PDF file] to help teams organize their Design Project Notebook. Include student work, brainstorming, discarded ideas and opportunities for reflection on the design process. The notebook should include a section documenting what the students learned throughout their experience. Specific criteria are listed in the Evaluation Rubric  [288KB PDF file]. A link to or files for this notebook must be provided when teams submit their design solutions.
  • Use the Criteria and Constraints  [691KB PDF file] document to set limits for the design solution.
  • Compare and analyze possible solutions.
  • Include evidence of solution refinement and redesign.
  • Use modeling software to design solutions.
    Educators may register online for free digital 3-D modeling software that can be used with their students.

Step 3: Post Designs -- Deadline: Feb. 28, 2014

A. Submit each team's design solution by completing the Team Registration no later than Feb. 28, 2014. Following this date, educators are encouraged to use the NASA EDC resources and challenge scenario. They should note that student designs submitted beyond this date will not be considered for the NASA EDC competition.

B. Go to the team registration page hosted on the National Institute of Aerospace website.

C. Complete the required fields:
  • Teacher Name and Email
  • School Name and 9-digit ZIP Code
  • Team Name
  • Student Names (first name only)

D. Post the following artifacts for each team:
  • Mission Patch or Logo
    Required format: JPEG, GIF, PDF or ppt. file no larger than 5 MB
  • Design Project Notebook
    Required format: a link, PDF or ppt. file no larger than 5 MB
  • Design Graphics
    Required: Two to five graphics that may include schematics or photos posted as a JPEG, GIF, PDF or ppt. file no larger than 5 MB
E. After uploading work:
  • Download a student engineer certificate that may be duplicated and distributed.
  • Download a certificate recognizing your work as an educator guiding student engineers within NASA EDC.
F. Five design solutions will be selected and finalist teams notified by TBD.
  • Evaluation Teams composed of educators, NASA and Lockheed Martin researchers, and graduate engineering students will review all design solutions submitted.
  • Use the Evaluation Rubric  [288KB PDF file], to guide student work.

Exit NASA to Register
›  Register team and submit student designs  →

Step 4: Test –- Deadline: TBD

A. The five finalist teams will be matched with a mentor from NASA's Langley Research Center. Radiation experts will assist the team in testing their design.

B. The winning team will be announced TBD.

Step 5: Build –- Deadline: TBD

A. The winning team will build their radiation shield prototype to fly on the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). Additional criteria and constraints will be provided to guide this work. Sensors and a $500 materials stipend will be provided by the NASA EDC team.

B. The NASA EDC team will connect the winning team with mentors in their geographic location to support this work.

C. The prototype must be completed by TBD.

Step 6: Launch -- Tentatively scheduled for September 2014

A. All five teams participating in the test (Step 4) will be invited to attend the inaugural launch of Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

B. The most successful design solution will travel onboard ETF-1 at the discretion of Lockheed Martin. The team creating the winning prototype will be honored as the NASA Exploration Design Challenge winning team and will be given a travel stipend to offset costs associated with travel to the EFT-1 launch. The other four teams will not receive a travel stipend.

*Please note that the timeline from design to launch spans two academic years. The design must be completed by Feb. 28, 2014. The five finalist teams will be selected to test their designs by TBD. One design will be built by TBD, and may fly on EFT-1 scheduled for a September 2014 launch.

The five finalist student teams may not be students in your class by launch date, so arrangements may need to be made to support the team(s) to attend the launch.

Safety in the Educational Classroom and Laboratory

Safety is an important goal for all curricular areas of education. Safety issues are a special concern for STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities and courses. Many national and state academic standards address the need for schools and subject areas to promote student development of knowledge and abilities in a safe learning environment.

It is the responsibility of the school's administration for providing a learning environment that is safe, up-to-date and supportive of learning. Additionally, teachers are responsible for their students' welfare in the classroom and laboratory.

Teachers must be knowledgeable and diligent in providing a safe learning environment. Students should receive safety instructions relevant to the topics being taught. Assessments must accompany the lessons on safety, and records must be kept on student results. The teacher must properly supervise students while they are working. The teacher must inspect and maintain equipment and tools to ensure they are in proper working condition. Parents should be informed about the subject in which their child is enrolled and should be educated about the safety plan that is being used. The teacher should develop a safety checklist to assure safe conditions exist and procedures are being followed in the classroom and laboratory.

Safety Rules:
Below are examples of safety rules that may be used. Teachers should develop their own safety rules to fit the needs of their classroom.
  1. Conduct yourself in a responsible and safe manner at all times.
  2. Follow all written and verbal instructions carefully. If you do not understand a procedure or how to use a tool, ask your teacher before proceeding.
  3. Keep your work area clean at all times.
  4. Use proper safety protection, i.e., gloves, goggles, proper clothing.
  5. Notify your teacher in an emergency.

Do you have questions about the Exploration Design Challenge?
Email nasaedc@nianet.org

Radiation Experiments on the International Space Station

The flight test scheduled for 2014 will take Orion farther into space than any manned spacecraft has been since the Apollo missions, giving scientists and engineers a chance to study the effects of radiation on humans beyond low Earth orbit. Read about some of the radiation research currently being conducted on the International Space Station in preparation for future flights.

› Radiation Environment Monitor

› Area Passive Dosimeter for Life-Science Experiments in Space

› Dose Distribution Inside the International Space Station -- 3D

› Spacecraft Single Event Environments at High Shielding Mass

› NanoRacks-Kentucky Space Test-2 and -4

› RaDI-N 2 Neutron Field Study

› 3D Silicon Detector Telescope


Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
Orion will carry the crew to space and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
› Orion Home Page
› Orion Paper Model


The Radiation Challenge guide Space Faring: The Radiation Challenge Unit
Radiation biology examines the effects of radiation on living systems. The lesson plans in these units are hands-on investigations that encourage the use of science, mathematics, engineering, technology, problem-solving and inquiry skills.

Mission patch for space shuttle mission STS-135 NASA Mission Patches  →
For every spaceflight, the astronaut crew designs a mission patch. The names of the crew are usually incorporated into the design along with elements that describe different phases of that particular mission.

An image of a woman inside computer monitor in space NASA Digital Learning Network -- Mission Patch Design
Schedule this DLN activity to guide teams as they design mission patches.

A solar flare Exploring Magnetism Lesson Series  →
These seven guides about magnetism contain activity- or mathematics-based lessons on magnetic fields. The guides are designed for grades 6-8 and 9-12. The materials were developed following NASA science missions: STEREO-IMPACT, RHESSI, THEMIS and FAST.

A drawing of a box showing the sun's rays directed through a prism attached to the side of a box The Ritter Experiment From Cool Cosmos  →
Perform a version of Johann Wilhelm Ritter's experiment of 1801 in which ultraviolet light was first discovered.

A drawing of a box showing the sun's rays directed through a prism attached to the side of a box that contains three small thermometers The Herschel Experiment From Cool Cosmos  →
Perform a version of astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel's experiment of 1800 in which a form of radiation other than visible light was discovered.

Two plastic cups filled with water and labeled tap water and tonic water with the tonic water showing a blue tint Detecting Ultraviolet Light Using Tonic Water  →
This activity demonstrates a simple method for demonstrating the presence of ultraviolet light using tap water and tonic water.

Cover of Radiation Math Radiation Math Educator Guide (Grades 6-12)
Use mathematics to discover the mysteries of radiation and how it affects humans.

Satellites in space gather data about space weather NASA eClips™ Real World: Space Weather
This NASA video segment looks at space weather and examines the major ramifications space weather can have on Earth.

The words SPACE LIFE, with colorful montage of butterfly and flower, spider’s web, man and glovebox, and other life science images NASA's Teaching From Space -- Space Life Sciences
The NASA Space Life Sciences education website contains resources on living organisms in the space environment. Visit the topic sections for more information, and return to the website often for news on space life sciences research.

Astronaut NASA's Human Research Program
The Human Research Program conducts research and develops technologies that allow humans to travel safely and productively in space.

Cancer cells Mysterious Cancer
Researchers agree that space radiation can cause cancer. They're just not sure how.

Page Last Updated: July 27th, 2016
Page Editor: Flint Wild