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Australian Virtual Astronaut (AVA) challenge goes global

AVA Challenge

With Australian schools in lockdown during the 2021 winter, students in NSW spent the majority of the season completing their schooling via home learning. This period of time presented educators with a range of challenges including difficulty in engaging and motivating primary and secondary students in an online environment, and a growing occurrence of mental health issues in students living with the lack of connection and stress caused by the pandemic and the extended lockdown. 

With these issues on their mind, a group of STEM education experts and design thinking leaders put their heads together and developed the Australian Virtual Astronaut (AVA) Challenge - a 6 week space design challenge, in which teachers and schools could participate as part of their home learning activity lesson plans. 

The 6 week program challenged students from across 6 countries and 199 schools to form remote teams and create a Family Home Outpost (FHO) on the Moon. Their task was to design a way of surviving and thriving and to solve the problems that astronauts face, such as how to grow food in space, in the International Space Station, or even on Mars.

The program ran over 6 weeks and included a range of respected STEM education leaders and special guest appearances from the likes of Dr Karl, Dr Adrian Brown from NASA’s Mars Rover Mission, and Astrophysicist, Kirsten Banks.

The STEM Ed Experts included :

  • Dr Scott Sleap - SISP Project Leader (NSW Department of Education), Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence for Secondary Science Teaching, Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellow

  • Ben Newsome - Churchill Fellow, AMP Tomorrow Maker and Founder of Fizzics Education

  • Ted Tagami - User Advisory Committee Education Chair at ISS US National Lab and CoFounder of Magnitude

  • Lori Waters - VP of Learning Experiences at Magnitude

  • Wendy Bode - Deputy Principal, Global Tropics Future Project, Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellow, QLD Virtual STEM Academy

  • Jim Christensen - Executive Director of ShareSpace Education, the education arm of the Aldrin Family Foundation

  • Ian Preston - Riverina STEM Project Officer and Deputy Principal (NSW Department of Education), Deputy Principal NSW Virtual STEM Academy

  • Allan Ryan - Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School Founder of Hargraves Institute

  • Allan Ryan - Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School, Founder of Hargraves Institute

  • Kylie Burrett & Glenn Lawrence - GOLD Good Design Award Winner, Founders of Design Nuts

  • Dr Ken Hudson - Lecturer at UTS Speaker & Founder of Ideas Blitz

  • Gillian Hewitt - Founder of Imaginaturalists

The 2021 challenge webinar videos and materials are available online and accessible to anyone interested here

The challenge was such a huge success that the team are looking to run it again in 2022. If you are keen to support or get your school involved in next year’s challenge please contact Dr Scott Sleap at