What will it take to live on the moon?

As NASA prepares to again send crewed missions to the lunar surface with the Artemis program, the challenge of longterm habitation on the moon becomes an active question.

One possibility is to create crew habitats not on the moon, but in it — making use of the moon’s lava tubes. This idea was considered as early as the 1960s for some obvious advantages, including the fact that lava tubes would require little construction while offering protection from natural hazards. But lava tubes also pose hazardous sites for exploration, with challenges ranging from rocky terrain, the likelihood of steep inclines, very low light, and the possibility of limited communications.

How would YOU go about exploring lava tubes in order to turn them into crew habitats? Want a chance to give it a try?

A team challenge for college students

Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium is excited to offer one of NASA’s Artemis Student Challenges — the Lunar Lava Tube Exploration Challenge.

We invite teams of students from two-year and four-colleges to participate. The Lunar Lava Tube Exploration challenges teams to explore a lunar lava tube with an eye toward its potential for human habitation.

Registration — Is now open! Deadline for fall challenge registration is October 10, 2022.

To Do

  1. Read about lava tubes.
  2. Review the Participation Guide.
  3. Note the challenge timeline.
  5. Work on your mission — peruse our resources library for tips!
  6. Submit your mission documentation to participate in the Regional Challenges!

Quick info

Challenge objectives

The overall challenge goal is to build a rover and develop programs that allow the rover to navigate the challenge course, a model lunar lava tube. The lunar lava tube will not have a light source, teams should expect to incorporate a light source into their rover design and/or be prepared to navigate in a dark tunnel.

Mission Objectives (MOs)

MO-1 Skylight Entry: Rover needs to enter the challenge course through the skylight without human contact

MO-2. Obstacle Avoidance: Rover should not come into contact with obstacles such as lava columns

MO-3. Rough Terrain Navigation: Rover needs to be able to navigate rock and sand covered paths, slopes, and rock steps with minimal difficulty

MO-4. Future Habitat Development: Develop a barrier solution to be deployed by the rover to block off a tunnel branch for a possible future habitat

MO-5. Sample Imaging: Capture an image of a rock sample in the Hall of Resources (location shown in Challenge Course Diagram)


The challenge is open to students enrolled in a STEM major at a two-year or four-year college in the U.S. All enrolled STEM undergraduates are welcome to participate regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Supply support, however, may be limited to U.S. citizens (see the information in the Supplies section below).

Teams should be 3–5 students. One student must be designated as the team lead who will handle all communications between the challenge coordinators and the team.

All teams must also have one mentor who is either faculty or a graduate student at their school. The mentor will be the secondary contact point for communications.



Ideal for teams with limited or no programming or engineering design experience.

  • Equipment — WSGC provided robot kit (Modifications or pieces outside of robot kit allowed)
  • Rover Control — Primarily manual, some autonomous if able


For teams with some prior programming and engineering design or mechanical engineering experience.

  • Equipment — WSGC provided robot kit or custom built rover (Modifications or pieces outside of robot kit allowed)
  • Rover Control — Mostly manual, some autonomous functions required


Shackleton — Autonomous

For teams confident in their programming and engineering design or mechanical engineering experience.

  • Equipment — Custom built rover
  • Rover Control — Autonomous navigation, MO-1 and MO-4 can be accomplished with manual controls
Shackleton — Remote Controlled

For teams with engineering design or mechanical engineering experience but limited to no programming experience.

  • Equipment — Custom built rover
  • Rover Control — Remote/manual control of rover allowed for all MOs


The Lunar Lava Tube Undergraduate Challenge will be able to supply robot kits and related materials to qualified teams dependent on availability of funding.  We do have limited resources and will use our discretion to provide supplies to support to teams based on registration information and demonstrated need. Estimated cost of participation is $2,000.  Student teams who are provided with supply support through the challenge will receive support up to this amount.  Supplies with be coordinated through each Team Lead. 

The Lunar Lava Tube Undergraduate Challenge will also provide a $1,500 stipend qualified team members as funding allows. We do have limited resources and will use our discretion to provide supplies to support to teams based on registration information and demonstrated need.  Students who are receiving course credit at their institution for participating will not be eligible for a stipend.  

Teams will need to meet the following requirements to receive supply and/or stipend support:

  • Complete Lunar Lava Tube Undergraduate Challenge Registration Form
  • Complete Media Release from all team members
  • Complete Profile Form from all team members

We highly encourage all teams to apply for funding through their college, university, or state Space Grant for additional support.  Contact nasa@uw.edu if you need assistance with looking for additional funding sources or have questions about stipends.

Running a team challenge during COVID-19

We are confident that we are able to provide an enriching experience for registered teams during COVID-19.  Students, graduate students, and faculty and staff participants will need to adhere to their local, state, and institutional COVID guidelines. 

The Lunar Lava Tube Student Challenge will take inspiration from NASA’s ability to communicate with technology between NASA centers on Earth and technology in different parts of space such as Mars and the Moon.  The challenge will provide a structure for teams to have one point of contact with access to the challenge course.  This individual will serve as the “Lunar Base” to allow the rest of the team working virtually or on the “Earth Base” to test their solutions in the challenge course without physically being in it.  Details on this process can be found in the Challenge Objectives and Resources section of the Participation Guide.

Contact us

The Lunar Lava Tube Exploration Challenge is coordinated by Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium’s main office at the University of Washington in Seattle.

If you have questions, please contact us via:

  • Email: nasa@uw.edu
  • Phone: 206-543-1943 OR 1-800-659-1943