Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

USGS teaching planetary concepts with the PLANETS curriculum

Looking for fun and engaging educational resources in space science? Planetary Learning that Advances the Nexus of Engineering, Technology, and Science (PLANETS) is an out-of-school time program for youth in grades 3-8 that provides STEM learning with an emphasis on integrating NASA planetary science and engineering content, particularly for underserved audiences.




Planetary Learning that Advances the Nexus of Engineering, Technology, and Science (PLANETS) is an out-of-school time program for youth in grades 3-8 that provides STEM learning with an emphasis on integrating NASA planetary science and engineering content, particularly for underserved audiences. The USGS Astrogeology Science Center is a key partner in this interdisciplinary collaboration among educator professional development experts at the Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Northern Arizona University; curriculum development experts at the Engineering is Elementary program at the Museum of Science, Boston; education best practices research and development experts at WestEd STEM; and a group of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion & accessibility) learning experts.

Since 2016, the PLANETS team has developed three curricular units: Remote Sensing, Water in Extreme Environments, and Space Hazards.  Each unit has a series of science activities that develop investigative science concepts and a series of engineering activities that follow an engineering design process and develop critical problem-solving skills along with resources to support educators in their teaching. (see


Remote Sensing (Grades 6-8)

Remote sensing is the investigation of something without touching it. On Earth, scientists use satellites, aircraft, unoccupied aerial systems (drones), special cameras, and lasers to observe a variety of landscapes and features without touching them. Planetary scientists also use remote sensing tools on satellites, rovers, and telescopes to learn about the surfaces of other planets and asteroids. In this unit, youth are introduced to the concepts of remote sensing, light, and how rovers and satellites use remote sensing to tell different minerals apart.

Click the links below to learn more about this unit and download the science and engineering guides and more resources such as videos, images, and NASA Mission connections.

Remote Sensing Science

Youth explore visual images of Mars obtained by satellites and learn how these images are interpreted. They learn how scientists use remote sensing techniques to explore the surface of Mars in search of ideal landing sites for rovers. Youth learn about topography, mineral identification using light, and combine multiple lines of evidence to pick their own rover landing site on Mars.

Remote Sensing Engineering

In the Engineering unit, students learn about how technology can help scientists solve problems, enabling them to learn more about something unknown. Students learn about properties of light, how a remote sensing instrument can find the topography of a surface without touching it, and how to filter through information to find a hidden message. Students then combine this information to create a device that helps them learn about a mystery moon without touching it and to think of ways their new technology can be improved.

Remote Sensing – PLANETS (

Water in Extreme Environments (Grades 6-8)

Life on Earth requires water to survive and people need clean water for many everyday uses. This is also true for astronauts on the International Space Station and will be true for astronauts on future bases on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.  Water is an important resource that will be used for many things. The ability to filter, reuse, and recycle water is something that many communities on Earth already have, using technology and engineered solutions. Youth learn how water is categorized by usability (e.g. greywater, pure water, wastewater), and how filters work to remove impurities. Youth then learn about where water can be found in the solar system, why it exists on different planetary bodies and not others, and in what phases it is found (solid, liquid, or vapor).

Water in Extreme Environments Science

The Earth is covered in water in many forms – liquid water, solid water (ice and glaciers), and water vapor (atmosphere). Youth learn about water on Earth and how other organisms can use water that we can’t. Youth then learn where else in the solar system water exists (planets, moons, and asteroids) and in what forms that it is present through a deck of playing cards. These cards can also be used to play several games we’ve developed or games the youth make up themselves.

Water in Extreme Environments Engineering

Water is a very important resource in many communities, and because it is commonly a limited resource many communities have developed technologies to reuse and recycle water. Youth learn what engineering and technology mean, and then apply that knowledge toward finding a solution to making water cleaner. Students learn about filters, how different types of systems use filtration to purify water for reuse, and how a process can be created to improve filtration methods. Youth also learn how to improve technology, and how to give a presentation about their filtration process to their peers.

Water in Extreme Environments – PLANETS (

Space Hazards (Grades 3-5)

A hazard is a danger or risk that can cause harm to our health, life, or property. Hazards exist all around us, with some being less dangerous than others. There are ways to mitigate a hazard to lessen or avoid the danger. In this unit, kids learn about hazards that exist in everyday life and what it means to mitigate hazards. Kids also learn how different technologies are developed to mitigate different types of hazards that astronauts might encounter in different conditions in space and on moons and other planets.

Space Hazards Science

We face hazards in many forms every day and have different ways to mitigate them. Kids learn about hazards on Earth and how we can mitigate everyday hazards through a game using playing cards. Kids then use the card game to learn about hazards in different areas of the solar system and different mitigation techniques for those hazards. Kids learn that some hazards in the solar system are different than on Earth, but some are similar.

Space Hazards Engineering

Astronauts face hazards when they go into space, and future astronauts will also face hazards that will require mitigation. They are exposed to some of the most extreme conditions in space, including high levels of radiation and changes in pressure, oxygen, and gravity. Kids learn about engineering and technological solutions to mitigating hazards that astronauts may face and develop their own technology (different types of space gloves) to mitigate conditions that astronauts might face on space missions. . In this unit, groups focus on protecting against three space hazards in their glove designs: cold temperatures, impact, and dangerous dust. Kids then use what they’ve learned about mitigating hazards to develop their own space glove that protects against unknown space hazards and can be used to perform mission tasks. Kids can learn how to improve their technology and present their improvements to their peers.

Welcome to Space Hazards! – PLANETS (