The Science and Engineering of Space Exploration

Dr. Haym Benaroya
Rutgers University
4-H Rutgers


Living on the Moon and maybe Mars is within our reach, a topic that 30 teens explored with Rutgers mechanical engineering professor Dr. Haym Benaroya.  For an icebreaker conversation, we considered whether or not we would want to explore space, and if we went to live on the Moon or Mars, what one thing would we take? (Smartphones were a popular answer.)

Teens were treated to a brief history of space exploration and a variety of lunar habitat designs. Scientists, engineers, and artists are collaborating on sustainable designs for humans to live on the Moon or Mars. We heard about ideas for space tourism (swimming in a 3D pool or playing football on the Moon looked like fun) and had a long discussion about how a space elevator would work and how to build it. Dr. Benaroya helped us understand how these things could be achieved in our lifetime.


The Structural Design of a Lunar Habitat

A lunar base is an essential part of all the new space exploration programs because the Moon is the most logical first destination in space. Its hazardous environment will pose challenges for all engineering disciplines involved. A structural engineer’s approach is outlined in this paper, discussing possible materials and structural concepts for second-generation construction on the Moon. Several different concepts are evaluated and the most reasonable is chosen for a detailed design. During the design process, different solutions—for example, for the connections—were found. Although lunar construction is difficult, the proposed design offers a relatively simple structural frame for erection. A habitat on the Moon can be built with a reasonable factor of safety and existing technology. Even so, we recognize the very significant difficulties that await our return to the Moon. Read the full article.

Hands on Activity

Teens then had the chance to adopt an engineering mindset and design a habitat for the lunar environment. This meant keeping in mind the parameters Dr. Benaroya discussed: familiar ones like low gravity and lack of atmosphere and other factors like bombardment by micrometeorites and long periods of darkness.   Should the base be buried within a crater or even underground?  How would food be grown?  Dr. Benaroya interacted with all of the groups and commented on their designs. A “gallery walk” allowed teens to check out everyone’s ideas.