Classroom Activities

Activity: SETI and the Search for New Homes in Space

Instructional Objectives
Background Information

Instructional Objectives:

Students will -

  1. discuss the feasibility of intelligent life in the universe and propose methods of communication;
  2. design a model community for space travelers and describe how the essential needs of the planetary biospherians will be met.

Background Information:

It seems that human beings have dreamed and wondered about the existence of extraterrestrial life capable of communicating with us. In the last 50 years, with the help of radio telescopes, we now have the capability of interplanetary communications.

Equally fascinating is the idea of space travel to communities on planets and moons in our solar system or even in far-reaching galaxies beyond our Milky Way. Dr. William A. Gaubatz from McDonnell Douglas Aerospace has presented the vision that perhaps "Space is a Place." Space is a place to travel, work, play, manufacture goods, or even mine raw materials and convert them to energy. What would life be like if we actually had a Delta Clipper space transportation system that could carry people to interplanetary destinations? How long will it be until we have a future that includes solar farms on the moon? Orbiting talk shows? Space adventure tourism? Or pioneers homesteading in space? This is a vision that believes in space as a place to be explored, a new frontier to learn about and enjoy, and an opportunity perhaps to meet and study other life-forms.


Part A: What Would It Be Like If We Could Communicate with Other Life Forms?

Time Needed for Activity:
One half of a class period

Target Grade Level:
High School with minimal adjustments for middle level students.



  1. Discuss with students what they know about the existence of life elsewhere in the universe based on literature, TV, movies, and so on.

  2. Determine how many in the class "believe" that extraterrestrials have visited our planet.

  3. Have the students record in their journals how scientists would solve the problem of finding out if life exists. Remember, this process includes asking these questions:
    • What do scientists know? -- evidence
    • How do we know it? -- experiments and technology
    • What don't we know?-- limits of the data
    • What predictions can we make? what testing can we do
    • What questions can we ask, what experiments can we do, to find out? -- new investigations or missions

  4. If possible, have the students find out more about SETI on the Internet and record their notes in their science journals.

  5. Have students complete the following task and then share their results with the class.

The SETI radio telescopes have picked up several unusual radio transmissions from deep space. The analysis of the signals support the conclusion that the transmissions originated from intelligent life in a distant solar system. You would like to establish communication with this life-form, and you must decide both the message you will send and the kind of communication you will use (digital, music, language, etc.). Defend your choice.

Part B. What Would It Be Like If We Could Live on a Different Planet or Moon in Our Solar System?

Time Needed for Activity:
One week of 50-minute classes, or if time is given for homework, one period to introduce the project and begin in class and one period at the completion of the assignment for in-class presentations of the group models.

Target Grade Level:
High School (Middle school students can complete this project but are not expected to have the detailed background knowledge presented in biology and environmental science courses.)


Each group of four students will need the following:


  1. Where would you like to live in the solar system if you could choose any place in space? Have each student group select a planet or moon in our solar system to be the site of its H.O.M.E. (Habitats Out of Manmade Ecosystems.) The group must gather information about the geology, climate, atmosphere, gravity, and access to solar radiation of their selected location.

  2. Because they will be the first to colonize the planet/moon, student teams should brainstorm what supplies they will need to carry with them from Earth -- the essentials for life.

    (Optional) It would be helpful to show one of the many videos produced about Biosphere II and what research was completed to set up the self-contained habitat.

  3. They may select the number of homesteaders who will travel with them and what skills each person will have.

  4. Design a blueprint of the habitat on the poster or butcher paper and include the following components: energy sources, essentials for life, waste treatment, transportation, communication, and matter cycles. Remind students that their biohabitat must be an all-inclusive environment that supplies water, food and fiber, land, minerals, technology, shelter, and a diverse gene bank of plants and animals. If resources are available on the planet or moon, then methods to extract them must be included. Microorganisms and medicinal plants should also be considered.


Each group will need to make a five-minute presentation of their H.O.M.E. During the presentations, each student in-class will evaluate the group presentations and provide positive feedback and constructive suggestions for ways to improve the project. Questions and answers should be allowed at the end of each presentation. At the conclusion of all the presentations, have each group conduct an evaluation of the project and the work of each team member. Did all students contribute? Did each individual complete his or her section of the project? Did everyone in the group contribute to the presentation?


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