Christopher Strider Cook edited this page Jun 8, 2015 · 1 revision


Curiosity Hacked Space Colonies and BioEngineering Badge

(printable version)

Curiosity Hacked Space Colonies and BioEngineering Badge

====== Guild Throughlines ======

1. What kinds of ideas and projects catch my attention and make me excited to explore and learn? What concepts and skills would be valuable to me?

2. When do I feel the most confident during working time?

3. What steps do I need to take in order to take charge of my own learning?

4. How can I use the resources available to meet my goals?

5. How can I share what I learn with others?

Badge Design Process

Identify goals


Generate ideas










Redesign (and repeat 4-7 as necessary)



Badge Overview

'''(what is the intention of this badge? Why are we doing this? Why is it important?)**'''

The future of space exploration is the inhabitation and colonization of other worlds. This badge will introduce the some of the most fundamental sciences required in human colonization outside of Earth.

Badge Objectives

'''(what info needs to be acquired, retained, and applied for skill/concept mastery?)'''

The Space Colonies Badge explores the logistics and skills needed to survive outside of Earth.


Students will be acquainted with the dynamic systems that support life on Earth.


Students will have an appreciation for the position of Earth in the universe.


Students will be exposed to the basic components of the Earth with emphasis on the biosphere.


Students will be able to relate basic human needs to Earth processes.


Understand colony design, environmental measurement and control, sustainability


Understand the science and engineering behind terraforming and hydroponics


Understand how to collect data from environmental sensors

Mentor Resources:

'''(websites, etc we have found helpful for supporting mentors in guiding this badge)'''

[ NASA Quest: Mars Colony Project]

[ NASA Space Settlement Basics]

Lessons and Activities to support Badge Objectives:

'''Note: These are activities and resources meant to help facilitate the acquisition and retention of the skill or concept being mastered. They are not, however, mandatory. A dialogue between the Mentor and young hacker should result in a plan to meet the requirements of this badge with the child’s vision as the guide. That may include some or all of the activities below, or it may be designing a new project. The mentor will help to shape the plan so that the child can master the skills through what he or she deems valuable, while still ensuring a comprehensive education in this skill/concept.'''

The Hubble Space Telescope allows us to view galaxies 12 billion light years from Earth. This is as far as we can see into the universe. There may be many more galaxies beyond these. Among these billions and billions of stars and planets there are many possibilities for life. The Earth is located in the Milky Way Galaxy. There are at least 200 billion stars in the Milky Way; many are believed to have planets. Perhaps there is other life within our own galaxy. In our own Solar System our star, Sol, a.k.a. the sun, is the center. Nine planets and numerous satellites, asteroids, comets, and other stuff circle the sun. Is there life in our solar system? Of course there is. We are alive here on Earth. Some of the other planets, particularly Mars, may have had some form of life at one time, but we haven’t found evidence of it yet. In any image of the Earth we can see the land and water. Above the surface of the Earth we have the atmosphere.

The surface of the Earth is divided into land and water. The water predominates in the form of seas and oceans making up approximately 70 percent of the surface. Like oxygen, water is vital for sustaining human life. But, not just any water, we need fairly clean water free of salt and polluting chemicals. Let’s look at how we get “clean” water. This diagram is known as the water cycle that many of you are already familiar with. Basically, the water is heated by the sunlight and it evaporates (turns into water vapor) and goes into the atmosphere. Water vapor also comes from plants in their transpiration process and from animals like us when we breathe and sweat (which is all the time). As the warm moist air rises, it cools forming clouds. When the water droplets get large enough they fall to earth in the form of rain, snow, or occasionally as chunks of ice that we call hail. This process of evaporation followed by precipitation is the primary source of our fresh water that we drink and bathe in. The rain and melted snow forms our streams and lakes. Some of the water seeps into the ground while plants and animals absorb some almost immediately. The water gets mixed with salt and other things as it makes its way to the oceans where it evaporates repeating the cycle that has been continuing for millions of years. Let’s hope it continues for many more years.

Brainstorm – What supports life on Earth?:

radiation shield


atmospheric pressure






energy sources


fossil fuels


water power




clothing and shelter

Radiation shielding - Above the Earth’s atmosphere is the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is a layer of charged particles that shields the earth from harmful radiation coming from the sun and outer space. Without this shield, plants and animals such as could not survive.

Atmosphere, Oxygen, Photosynthesis - The atmosphere is made up of several gases. While we must have oxygen to breathe, it only makes up 21 percent of the atmosphere. Nitrogen is the predominant gas occupying about 78 percent of the atmosphere. The remaining one percent of the atmosphere is made up of such gases as argon, neon helium, krypton, and hydrogen. When we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. On our transporter, we will need to carry an awful lot of oxygen or find some way to convert carbon dioxide back into oxygen or we would smother. How is carbon dioxide converted to oxygen here on Earth? The plants do that for us using a process called photosynthesis.

Atmospheric Pressure - While we are conscious of the fact that we need oxygen, the atmosphere provides something else that is vital to our survival. That is atmospheric pressure. Without atmospheric pressure, we would literally explode and we wouldn’t want that to happen. We are most comfortable with a pressure of 10 to 15 pounds per square inch. Thus we can live at sea level or in the mountains.

Food/Animals - We all like to eat and that is a good thing since food is necessary for sustaining life. Our food on Earth comes from plants and animals supplemented with minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and many others. Plants have been around for millions of years. Animals evolved to eat the plants and later to eat each other. Just like us, plants and animals share many of our basic needs.

Plant Food - Well the plants need to grow too, so they need nourishment. On Earth, the plants get their nutrients from the soil. Soil is made up of minerals and organic matter such as rotted plants and animals and animal waste.

Clothing and Shelter - Clothing and shelter are basic needs as well. The importance of these varies with the climate we live in. Clothes protect us from getting sunburned by blocking the sun’s ultraviolet rays. They protect us from the cold, rain, and snow. Of course, if we have the right kind of shelter, we have less need for clothing. So where do clothing and shelter come from? Until recently, clothing came from plants and animals. Now clothes are made out of materials derived from petroleum. Our shelter primarily comes from plants in the form of wood and from the ground in the form of stone, concrete, and glass. In the past some people used animal skins and even snow and ice to build shelters. Today plastics are used for building materials and many other things as well. In fact all of the materials we use come from the earth directly or indirectly.

Temperature - We get our energy here on Earth from a number of sources. Coal and oil, known as fossil fuels, were formed millions of years ago from lush vegetation that was buried and became solidified under pressure. Originally the plants that were transformed into coal and oil received their energy from the sun. Sunlight warms us today and is the primary cause of our weather and climate. Radioactive decay causes the interior of the earth to be hot and in some places we can tap into this as a geothermal energy source. The sun operates on nuclear energy, which has only recently been harnessed by humans as an energy source. There are other forms of energy such as water and wind power as well.

Spare Parts/Materials - What happens if we break down? Here on Earth we have many sources of materials. Metals like iron, copper, zinc, and aluminum are mined and refined. Metals are primarily a product of the nuclear processes that formed the Earth billions of years ago. Many other materials such as wood, glass, plastic, stones, and so forth are available too.

Gravity - Without gravity we would be in a lot of trouble. We would just float off in different directions. Floating around in the transporter for four years without gravity will be fun at first, but the novelty will wear off.

Entertainment - That is entertainment or to be more formal we would call it intellectual stimulation. When we are deprived of intellectual stimulation we don’t do very well. In fact we tend to go crazy. Fortunately, Earth is a very entertaining place. Everything is continually changing like day into night, the weather, the seasons, and of course the social interaction with other people. Our environments are further enriched when we participate in academics, arts, and games.

(Adapted from:

====== Biosphere ======

Students should build a small Earth environment to understand that the components fit together, and that they interact and change.

The zone of life on Earth is called a biosphere. Biospheres are closed systems (except for solar radiation and planetary core heat) that are mostly self-regulating. Earth scientists have use artificial biospheres such as Biosphere 2 to learn how climates completely self-regulate without human intervention.

Biosphere 2 is the largest artificial closed, self-regulating biosphere. It was constructed between 1987 and 1991 and is a 3.14 acre glass enclosure (kind of like a giant greenhouse). Biosphere 2 consisted of a rain forest, an ocean with a coral reef, a mangrove wetland, a Savannah grassland, a fog dessert and farmlands.

Tabletop Biosphere

Play with the variables

Use one of the terrariums or separate containers. Set up an experiment monitoring plant growth and plant appearance in which frequency of watering, water temperature, exposure to fresh air, soil, and light at the start are as constant as possible. Select plants with different light or water requirements and establish if they thrive under these starting conditions. Select rapid growing grasses or flowers and slow-growing cactuses, succulents, ferns, etc. Note their condition and measure their growth on a chart in notebooks. Later, students could experiment with the terrariums by altering one of the components, either exposure to light or frequency of watering, to see how changes affect the various types of plants.

Ideas to Take your Biosphere a Step Further

''Atmospheric Monitoring with the Arduino''

''Arduino Based Intelligent Greenhouse Project''

''Plantduino Greenhouse''


Hydroponics means “water working” and is basically the study of how to grow plants in water. Through growing plants in nutrient rich water, scientists have been able to grow plants in extreme conditions such as space or the south pole.

While there is no specific date that marks the beginning of hydroponics, we can see its foundations in ancient Babylon, Chinese, Incan, Egyptian and Aztec civilizations. The famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, are largely believed to have functioned according to hydroponic principles. Built around 600 B.C. in Babylonia, or Mesopotamia, the gardens were situated along the Euphrates River. The area suffered from a dry, arid climate that rarely saw rain, and it's believed that the lush gardens were watered using a chain pull system, which carried water up from the river and allowed it to trickle down to each step or landing of the garden structure.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, the Aztecs developed a system of floating gardens based on hydroponics. Driven out of their land, they settled at Lake Tenochtitlan. Unable to grow crops on the lake's marshy shore, they built rafts out of reeds and roots. These rafts were topped with a bit of soil from the bottom of the lake, and then floated out to the center of the water. Crops would grow on top of the rafts, their roots reaching through the rafts and down into the water. Marco Polo’s writings indicate he witnessed similar floating gardens while visiting China in the late 13th century.

Formal hydroponics studies didn’t start until the 1600’s by Sir Frances Bacon. In the 17th century, when Jean van Helmont’s flawed yet hugely significant “Willow Tree Experiment” proved that plants obtain substances from water. Horticultural scientists soon began a struggle aimed at separating roots from dirt and uncovering new ways to provide nutrients to crops grown in non-traditional environments.

The 20th century brought discoveries in the base nutrients in plant growth, as well as a standard solution for optimum plant growth. Hydroponics was heavily used by troops during WW2 in the Pacific campaign to reduce the amount of perishable food that troops needed to be transported. Islands that were occupied were often too rocky or marshy to sustain crops, so hydroponic growth became vital for a fresh food source.

Since hydroponic plants are grown indoors, plants can be grown all year round. All that is required is basic temperature control and a window with a lot of light or a grow lamp.

''Hydroponics 4-Ways''

Materials: Toothpicks, glass jar, water, paper towels, Avocado seed, Small sweet potato (can use half of a larger potato as long as it has at least one “eye”), One “finger” of ginger root (make sure that it has at least one “bud” on it.), lima beans should be dried and uncooked.



For large seed pod such as avocado, sweet potato or ginger root, use a wide mouth jar that the seed will comfortably fit inside the top of


Ginger root can also be started in a shallow bowl or saucer of water


Lima beans can be started by filling a jar with wet paper towels, and then sliding the Lima bean in the side of the jar – between the inside of the glass and the paper towel – so it can be easily watched as it sprouts roots.


Place toothpicks horizontally around perimeter of root or seed so that it rests at top of jar with bottom slightly submerged in surface of water. Younger children will likely require assistance with this step, but older children may be able to do it themselves.


Place in a sunny spot and keep the jar filled by monitoring and adding water regularly.


Watch your hydroponic plants grow!


The 3DPonics group has designed a method of combining hydroponics and drip irrigation to provide multiple crop growth in a very small space. The company has provided free 3D printer files for their root covers as well as their tube nozzles.

''NASA Lunar Plant Growth Challenge''

Put your hydroponics and engineering skills to the test for NASA. Join their challenge to design, analyze, build and assess plant growth chambers that could be used on a moon colony.

''Colony Design and Build''

Now that you know how to create a sustainable environment its time to consider building your space colony. First you need to consider all of the different systems that will be needed to create a habitable building.

Power - Solar arrays are the most widely used form of power collection in space. This is the best option if you know you are going to be in a location that receives a significant amount of sunlight. If there is no sunlight, then radioisotope thermoelectric power is required.

Laboratory Modules - Your colony will need to be modular so that it can be build in sections, each section will serve a different purpose. You will need modules for habitation, science, recreation, hydroponics, etc.

Life Support Systems - You will need to design a method of creating clean air to breathe and maintain a comfortable temperature for residents.

Communications Array - While living in your colony, you will want to talk to Earth or other surrounding spacecraft, to do this, you will need to find a reliable method of communication.

''Build a Recycled Colony''

Materials - Recyclables (egg cartons, paper towel rolls, plastic bottles, aluminum foil, glass jars, anything else you can think of), tape, glue, string, etc.



Use your imagination and the materials provided to create a habitat.


Explain to another person all of the parts of your colony and why they are included (or not included).

''NASA Moon Math''

Moon Math is a software application where users investigate lunar habitat design through learning the mathematical concepts of area, volume and proportion using geometric shapes.

''NASA - Lunar Nautics Activity Guide''

Lunar Nautics Space Systems, Inc., a fictional aerospace company specializing in mission management, lunar habitat and exploration design, and scientific research. Join the team and address the basics of Newton's Laws of Motion, rocket design, microgravity, and the moon. The educator guide provided contains more than 40 guided activities.

''Minecraft Mods - Galacticraft''

If you are a fan of Minecraft, there are many mods that have been released, one in particular deals with building in outer space, Galacticraft.


The Galacticraft mod allows you to think beyond the traditional forms of power generation like solar power and harness thermal expansion as a power source. Industrialcraft is a Minecraft mod specifically designed to let you build machines inside the Minecraft world.

Additional Resources:

'''(any other resources that may be related to the badge skill, but not essential to the objectives)'''

[[ Mars One]

[ Red Colony]

* How can I share my knowledge with others? * Did I document my project through notes and/or photos? * Did I find an activity or resource that was particularly interesting or helpful? * Mentors will help our Curiosity Hackers finish their badge by sharing the above on our wiki in the appropriate badge section.


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