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NASA’s BEST Students: Grades 3-5

Grade 3-5 learners will be guided through a series of challenges that follow the engineering design cycle.

The NASA BEST Activities Guide has been developed by a team from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Office of Education in support of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD). ESMD develops capabilities and supporting research and technology that will make human and robotic exploration possible. It also makes sure that our astronaut explorers are safe, healthy, and can perform their work during long-duration space exploration. ESMD does this by developing robotic precursor missions, human transportation elements, and life support systems. Ultimately, this Directorate of NASA serves as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations

The NASA BEST Activities Guides were designed to teach students the Engineering Design Process. Our team created three guides to accommodate three grade groups: K-2, 3-5 and 6-8. All follow the same set of activities and teach students about humans’ endeavor to return to the Moon. Specifically, how we investigate the Moon remotely, the modes of transportation to and on the Moon, and how humans will live and work on the Moon.

The Engineering Design Process is a series of steps engineers use to guide them in problem solving. Engineers must ask a question, imagine a solution, plan a design, create that model, experiment and test that model, then take time to improve the original – all steps that are crucial to mission success at NASA. What makes this guide different from others is: (1) there are no specific instructions or “recipes” for building the items; and (2) there are no given drawings. The emphasis is for students to understand that engineers must “imagine and plan” before they begin to build and experiment. To successfully complete the NASA BEST Activities, students must draw their ideas first before constructing.

Many of the activities have been adapted from others, and then aligned with the theme of efforts to return to the Moon with a focus on using the Engineering Design Process. Each activity features objectives, a list of materials, educator information, procedures, and student worksheets. When appropriate, the guide provides images, charts, and graphics for the activities. All activities are intended for students to work in teams. It is recommended that each team consist of 3 or 4 students. The activities can be used to supplement curricula during the school day or as activities in after-school clubs; as a set or individually. This guide of activities was also designed to keep material costs to a reasonable limit, using items often already found in the classroom or from home. Furthermore, all activities correlate to national science, mathematics, technology, and engineering standard(s). A list of national standards is included at the end of this guide.

Remember, let the students have fun!

Alignment to National Standards

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Science as Inquiry
Develop abilities necessary to do scientifc inquiry.
Develop understanding about scientifc inquiry.

Science and Technology
Develop abilities to do technological design.
Develop understanding about science and technology.

History of Nature and Science
Develop understanding of science as a human endeavor.



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Creativity and Innovation
Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes.
Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.

Research and Information Fluency
Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specifc tasks.

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Identify and defne authentic problems and signifcant questions for investigation.

Digital Citizenship
Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning and productivity


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Numbers and Operations
Compute fuently and make reasonable estimates.
Analyze change in various contexts.

Use visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling to solve problems.

Understand measureable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement.
Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.

Problem Solving
Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving.
Solve problems that arise in mathematical and in other contexts.
Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems.

Communicate mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers and others.
Analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others.
Use the language of mathematics to express mathematical ideas precisely.

Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.

Use representations to model and interpret physical, social and mathematical phenomena.

Original Activity Sources

Launch Your Satellite adapted from Rockets Educator Guide:

Prepare for a Mission adapted from Principles of Remote Exploration at:

Design the new Crew Exploration Vehicle! adapted from NASA’s KSNN™ 21st Century Explorer newsbreak “What will replace the space shuttle?” at:

Build a Solar Oven was adapted from Lunar Nautics, but is also a very popular activity found in many science textbooks:

Recommended Books and Videos

Need a little background information about the Moon, NASA History or earlier space exploration missions? Below is a suggested library list to help prepare you to provide answers to your students, or material to share with or recommend to your students to explore further. We thank our friends at St. Michael School in Hudson, MA for compiling this comprehensive list.

Adamson, Thomas K. First Moon Landing. Mankato, Minn: Capstone, 2007. Print. The story of the first landing of men on the Moon in July of 1969. Picture book.

Aguilar, David A. 11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System. Washington DC: National Geographic, 2008. Print. Provides an introduction to the planets of the solar system, including the two new dwarf planets, Ceres and Eris.

Aldrin, Buzz. Reaching for the Moon. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Print. An Apollo 11 astronaut takes readers on his journey that began in his childhood and led him to achieve his dream of walking on the Moon, bringing to life an unparalleled moment in history for a new generation and showing how everyone can strive to achieve their dreams.

AstroPuppies in Space. Dir. Tim Tully. 2009. Universe Productions, 2009. DVD. Dramatic NASA videos and stunning photos from the Hubble Space Telescope are blended with puppetry and instructive animations, songs, and poems. This is an entertaining and educational introduction to astronomy and space exploration for young children. (Amazon)

Bell, Jim. Mars 3-D: A Rover’s-Eye View of the Red Planet. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print. Presents the harsh landscape of the Red Planet through 3-D and color images from the robotic explorers Spirit and Opportunity; provides a close-up look at the Martian rocks, craters, valleys, and other geologic confIgurations.

Bennett, Jeffrey. Max Goes to Mars: A Science Adventure With Max the Dog. Boulder, Colorado: Big Kid Science, 2006. Print. When Max the dog becomes the fIrst canine to embark on a mission to Mars, he makes one of the most important discoveries of all time, in a book that includes facts about Mars.

Bennett, Jeffrey. Max Goes to the Moon: A Science Adventure With Max the Dog. Boulder, Colorado: Big Kid Science, 2003. Print. Taking the fIrst trip to the Moon since the Apollo missions, Max the dog and his friend Tori help set up the fIrst colony on the Moon.

Bunting, Eve. My Robot. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2006. Print. Cecil the robot is good at playing tag, leading the school band, and performing tricks with the dog, but there is one important thing he does best of all.

Chaikin, Andrew. Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences. New York: Viking, 2009. Print. Provides recollections from Apollo astronauts and a collection of photographs that document the history of the Apollo space program.

Chaikin, Andrew, Victoria Kohl, and Alan Bean. Mission Control, This Is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. Print. Discusses the historic moment in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, the major events that led up to this mission, and the advancements that have been made in space exploration from the Mercury missions to the present day.

Cobb, Vicki. I Fall Down. New York: Harper Collins, 2004. Print. Hands-on experimentation and fun 133 facts provide beginning readers with a simple introduction to the concept of gravity in terms of how it works, why it works, and its importance in our everyday lives.

Crelin, Bob. Faces of the Moon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009. Print.

Dahl, Michael. On the Launch Pad : A Counting Book About Rockets. Minneapolis, Minn.: Picture Window Books, 2004. Print. A countdown from twelve to one as a space shuttle awaits liftoff.

Dean, James, et al. NASA/Art: 50 Years of Exploration. New York: Abrams: In association with NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, 2008. Print. Ranging from the establishment of NASA in 1958 to the present day, the history of space exploration is chronicled through the work of some of the world’s most renowned artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, James Wyeth, Alexander Calder, Nam June Paik, William Wegman, and Annie Leibovitz, among others.

Floca, Brian. Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print. From putting on their special uniforms and strapping themselves down in their seats to shooting off into the sky and foating about in space, this informative picture book provides an up-close look at this historic mission to the Moon that took place forty years ago.

Glatzer, Jenna. Exploration of the Moon: How American Astronauts Traveled 240,000 Miles to the Moon and Back, and the Fascinating Things They Found There. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Pub., 2003. Print. Discusses the Apollo space program of the 1960s and later unmanned NASA probes of the Moon and describes the effects of space fight on the astronauts and some of what has been learned about the moon.

The Great Robot Race: The DARPA Grand Challenge.” NOVA. PBS. WGBH, Boston, 18 Mar. 2006. Television. This Nova episode shows the real race of driverless vehicles crossing 130 miles of the Mojave Desert.

Henderson, Harry. Modern Robotics : Building Versatile Machines. New York: Chelsea House, 2006. Print. Profles eleven individuals, including mathematicians, engineers, and inventors, who have greatly infuenced the feld of robotics, focusing on their struggle to accomplish what they have.

Hyland, Tony. How Robots Work. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2008. Print. Describes the kinds of jobs that robots are programmed to do and explains how they work, including how they move, sense the outside world, express feelings, and solve problems.

“In the Shadow of the Moon.” Dir. Ron Howard. 11-7-07. Lionsgate Entertainment, 02-22-08. DVD. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is an intimate epic, which vividly communicates the daring and the danger, the pride and the passion, of this extraordinary era in American history. Between 1968 and 1972, the world watched in awe each time an American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon. Only 12 American men walked upon its surface and they remain the only human beings to have stood on another world. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON combines archival material from the original NASA flm footage, much of it never before seen, with interviews with the surviving astronauts, including Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and 13), Dave Scott (Apollo 9 and 15), John Young (Apollo 10 and 16), Gene Cernan (Apollo 10 and 17), Mike Collins (Apollo 11), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17). The astronauts emerge as eloquent, witty, emotional and very human (Amazon).

Is There Life on Mars?.” NOVA. PBS. WGBH, Boston, 30 Nov. 2008. Television. Four years after they landed on Mars, NASA s twin robot explorers, Spirit and Opportunity, have lasted 16 times longer and driven 20 times farther than expected. Today they are joined by an aerial armada of hi-tech satellites, surveying Mars from orbit to reconstruct the planet’s mysterious history. And on May 25, 2008, they also got company on the ground: NASA’s Phoenix probe. NOVA s Is There Life on Mars? showcases the latest scientifc revelations from a planet, once alien, now poised to reveal provocative new clues in the tantalizing quest to plumb its past for signs of water and, perhaps, even life. (Amazon)

Jedicke, Peter. Great Moments in Space Exploration. New York: Chelsea House, 2007. Print. Describes the steps taken in the history of space exploration, from the development of rockets and satellites to manned space fight and robot rovers.

Jefferis, David. Space Probes: Exploring Beyond Earth. New York: Crabtree, 2009. Print. Introduces space probes and explains how they monitor the planets and other bodies in the solar system.

Kerley, Barbara. Greetings from Planet Earth. New York: Scholastic, 2007. Print. Set in 1977, Theo is inspired to do a class project based on space exploration and life on Earth, thus leading him to think about his own life, the mystery surrounding his father in Vietnam, and possibly painful family secrets held by his mother.

Marino, Nan. Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009. Print. Tamara dreams of the day when ten-year-old Muscle Man McGinty’s constant lies catch up to him, but when an incredible event takes place in the summer of 1969, her outlook on life is altered in the most surprising way.

McCarthy, Meghan. Astronaut Handbook. New York: Knopf, 2008. Print. Journey aboard the “Vomit Comet” where the students of an astronaut school learn what it is like to do this exciting job by experiencing weightlessness, getting their measurements taken for a space suit, and performing a space walk!

Moon Machines. Science Channel: A Discovery Company. 16 June 2008. Television. The right tools for the job… The U.S. Moon missions would never have gotten 10 feet off the ground without the pioneering engineers and manufacturers and the amazing machines they created to turn science fction into history-making headlines. From nuts and bolts to rockets and life support systems, every piece of gear was custom made from scratch to perform cutting-edge scientifc tasks while withstanding the violent rigors of space travel. Now here’s your chance to climb aboard the capsule, put on a spacesuit and learn the real stories behind the right stuff. (Amazon)

Piddock, Charles. Future Tech: From Personal Robots to Motorized Monocycles. Washington DC: National Geographic, 2009. Print. Explores the latest advances in technology and looks at future developments in robotics, medicine, transportation, and family life.

Platt, Richard, and David Hawcock. Moon Landing. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008. Print. A pop-up celebration of Moon exploration recreates the excitement of humankind’s dreams of traveling to the Moon, the race to conquer space, the technology needed to reach the Moon and sustain the astronauts in space, and the frst Moon landing itself.

Potter, Frank, and Christopher P Jargodzki, Mad About Modern Physics: Braintwisters, Paradoxes, and Curiosities. Hoboken, NJ: J Wiley, 2005. Print. 135

Prochnow, Dave. 101 Outer Space Projects for the Evil Genius. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print. Describes projects, from model rockets and telescopes to star maps and home planetariums, related to the feld of astronomy.

Pyle, Rod. Destination Moon: The Apollo Missions in the Astronauts’ Own Words. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Print. Encompassing the frsthand accounts of the astronauts and other participants, a complete history of NASA’s Apollo program includes coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the near-catastrophic Apollo 13 mission.

Rinard, Judith. Book of Flight: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Buffalo, NY: Firefy Books, 2007. Print. The major milestones in fight history illustrated from the collections of the National Air and Space Museum. Includes the development of fight and diagrams explaining fight science and technology.

Siy, Alexandra. Cars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009. Print. Presents an introduction to the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERS), “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” with photographs of the Mars landscape taken over a fve-year period as the rovers searched for water on the red planet.

Stone, Jerry. One Small Step: Celebrating the First Men on the Moon. New York: Henry Holt, 2009. Print. A celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing is a collection of keepsakes and memories that bring America’s historic moment of pride and accomplishment to life for a new generation.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2009. Print. Presents the story of the thirteen women connected with NASA’s Mercury 13 space mission, who braved prejudice and jealousy to make their mark and open the door for the female pilots and space commanders that would soon follow.

Thimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon : How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Boston: Houghton Miffin, 2006. Print. From the engineers to the suit testers, the story of the many people in various professions who worked behind-the-scenes to get Apollo 11 on the Moon and safely back is presented through quotes, transcripts, national archives, and NASA photos.

Tiner, John Hudson. 100 Scientists Who Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2000. Print. Profles the scientists who made signifcant contributions, describes their failures and accomplishments, and explains how they impacted science and society.

Todd, Traci. A Is for Astronaut: Exploring Space from A to Z. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006. Print. Provides simple information about space arranged in alphabetical order with vintage and contemporary photographs, including pictures of Ham, the frst chimpanzee in space and Neil Armstrong, the frst astronaut to walk on the Moon.

VanCleave, Janice Pratt. Engineering for Every Kid: Easy Activities That Make Learning Science Fun. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. Print. Explains some of the basic physical principles of engineering, accompanied by activities that illustrate those principles.

Van Der Linden, F. Robert. Best of the National Air and Space Museum. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. Print. A photographic tour of some of the top displays from the National Air and Space Museum is complemented by information on each item’s history, design, and purpose.

When We Left Earth. Discovery. June 2008. Television. Since the dawn of mankind, we have stared up at the lights in the sky and wondered… Now join the heroic men and women who have dared the impossible on some of the greatest adventures ever undertaken – the quest to reach out beyond Earth and into the great unknown of space! To celebrate 50 years of incredible achievements, the Discovery Channel has partnered with NASA to reveal the epic struggles, tragedies and triumphs in a bold chapter of human history. Along with the candid interviews of the people who made it happen, hundreds of hours of never-before-seen flm footage from the NASA archives – including sequences on board the actual spacecraft in fight – have been carefully restored, edited and compiled for this landmark collection. (Amazon)

– – -. Robots at Work and Play. North Mankato, Minn: Smart Apple Media, 2008. Print. Describes how robots can be used to perform work and provide entertainment.

– – -. Space Robots. North Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2008. Print. Describes how robots have been and will be used to explore the Moon, Mars, and other planets and how they can be used to assist humans during manned missions into space.

– – -. Moon 3-d : The Lunar Surface Come to Life. New York: Sterling, 2009. Print. Presents a history of the exploration of the Moon along with a collection of 3-D images that can be seen with the provided special glasses.


**All annotations of books supplied by Baker and Taylor School Selection


Standard Bills

Below is a suggested list of materials needed to complete all activities in this guide for a group of 24-32 students (~8 teams). In addition, for your convenience, a NASA BEST Kit is available for purchase from Science Kit/Boreal Laboratories (, which supports ~30 students.

Digital scale (1)
Graduated cylinder (1)
Meter sticks (1 per team)
Measuring tape (1)
Rulers (1 per team)
Stopwatches (1 per team)
Thermometers (2 per team)


Materials for Activities & General Building Supplies

aluminum foil
balloons, assorted
bamboo skewers
binder clips, assorted
blindfolds (1 per team)
bubble wrap
buttons or beads, assorted (~10 per team)
card stock
cardboard boxes (1 per team)
c-clamps (at least two)
clothespins (with springs)
cloth swatch, i.e. quilting square
coffee filters
colored pencils and crayons
cotton balls
empty paper towel tubes
empty toilet paper tubes
fishing line, ~20 lb. test, 5 m
film canisters
glow sticks (2)
glue sticks
index cards
mailing tube, 4” diameter or oatmeal canister
mini foil pie plates (1 per team)
modeling clay
paper bags
paper clips, assorted
pennies (at least 10 per team)
pipe cleaners
plastic cups
plastic eggs (1 per team)
plastic people (i.e. Lego® or Playmobil®)
plastic wrap
popsicle sticks and/or tongue depressors
rubber bands, assorted
shoe boxes or similar size boxes
staplers and staples
stirrer sticks
tape: masking, electrical, transparent and
duct tapes
wheels: i.e. model car wheels (plastic or
wood), empty thread spools, or rotelle pasta
(4-6 per team)

Table of Contents


Build a Satellite to Orbit the Moon
Teacher Page 12
Student Pages 14 – 23
Launch Your Satellite
Teacher Page 26
Student Pages 28 – 37
Prepare for a Mission
Teacher Page 40
Student Pages 42 – 51
Design a Lunar Buggy
Teacher Page 54
Student Pages 56 – 63
Design a Landing Pod
Teacher Page 66
Student Pages 68 – 75
Design a Crew Exploration Vehicle
Teacher Page 78
Student Pages 80 – 87
Launch Your CEV
Teacher Page 90
Student Pages 92 – 101
Design a Lunar Thermos
Teacher Page 104
Student Pages 106 – 115
Build a Solar Oven
Teacher Page 118
Student Pages 120 – 127
National Standards 129
Original Activity Sources 131
Recommended Books & Videos 132
Certifcate 137