Martian Shelter

To explore the properties of everyday materials and build a model habitat that meets the challenges of living on Mars.

Year groups: 6- 9 (ages 10- 14)

Martian shelters

Educational objective

To explore the properties of everyday materials and observe how they can be used for building a model habitat that meets the challenges of living on Mars.

Key student learning

  • Some materials are more suitable for certain purposes than others.
  • Fulfilling different needs means that you have to prioritise what is really important and make compromises where needed.
  • The conditions on Mars are different from those on Earth. This has an impact on the design of your habitat as it has to overcome different challenges.

Materials needed, per student or group

What you provide is your decision and may depend on what you have available. However, as a guide, this is what we provided to students when we tested the activity:

  • Drinking straws
  • Paperclips
  • Printer paper
  • Coloured paper
  • Polythene films
  • Aluminium foil
  • Bubble wrap
  • Elastic bands
  • Corrugated plastic boards
  • Sticky tape
  • Felt cloth
  • Ice lolly sticks

You will also need to provide the following materials to enable students to test whether their structures meet the various criteria they will be judged against:

  • A material that changes colour under ultraviolet light, e.g. UV beads
  • A shoebox, as a measure of the volume of the structure
  • A beaker of hot water and a thermometer to test the insulation of the habitat
  • A stopwatch or clock to time the insulation test
  • Weighing scales (ideally digital) to record the weight of the structure
  • 500g and 1kg weights (e.g. bags of sugar) to test its strength
  • Voting cards so that students can judge the aesthetics of each others’ structures
  • A score sheet so they know how they will be judged (see PDF)


  • This activity works well as a group activity, e.g. three students per group.
  • This activity can be delivered as a competition to increase students’ motivation to come up with the best design possible. If you opt for this we recommend that you give students a competition score sheet at the beginning of the session, so that they know how their design will be judged (see PDF).
  • We recommend that you set a time limit for students to finish their construction. They can still test their structure even if they have not completed it at the end of the session.
  • To make this more challenging you can limit the materials you allow your students or even label different materials with prices and give your students a budget which they are not allowed to exceed.

Mars habitats


  • What construction materials would be most suitable for protection from ultraviolet (UV) light, which is even more of a problem on Mars?
  • What do you know about the environment on Mars and what do you need to consider when building a Mars habitat? Where do the materials have to come from and how would you transport them?
  • Why should we spend so much money on space exploration when there is so much we could do on Earth?
  • Why might we want to build habitats on Mars?
  • How do habitats on Earth differ from each other?
  • What would a Mars habitat need that buildings on Earth do not? What might be useful for an Earth habitat but would not be relevant for a Mars habitat?


  • Find more free online activities to offer your students.
  • To run a Mars mission theme in your science club, order our Mars Mission box. This box provides you with all the materials you need for three unique Mars-themed activities. For instance, your students can build a biodome and explore the mix of nutrients and water that is best for food growth in a biodome on the Red Planet.
Mars Mission box

Links to everyday life

There are a range of different types of habitat here on Earth. Although all habitats may provide humans with a place to live, they can be radically different from each other. For example, the design can be dependent on the location or additional purposes of the habitats.


 House boats

Houseboats are used as homes across the world, in some cultures more than in others. As the safety of such a living place always depends on the calmness of the water, houseboats are usually found where water movement is minimal, such as in canals, lakes and rivers. The boat-like features of the structures and the materials used in their design allow houseboats to float on water.

Solar-powered houses

Solar-powered house

Some houses have solar cells on the roof. Solar houses are powered by energy from the Sun, a renewable energy source, instead of electricity. That is why they are most appropriate for areas where there is lots of sunshine.