NASA Exercise: Ranking Survival Objects for the Moon

NASA Exercise Instructions

Group members should be instructed to rank the objects individually (–10 min) and then in groups (15 min.). In the group part of the exercise, all groups should be instructed to employ the method of group consensus, which requires each group member to agree upon the rankings for each of the 15 survival items before the item becomes a part of the group decision (e.g., Hall and Watson, 1970). Instructors should ensure that students interact only within groups and no cross-talking occurs between groups.

After revealing the correct answers and allowing teams to calculate their scores, record the team score and the lowest individual score from each team. Subtract the team score from the individual score; this provides the “synergy” score. Ask the students in the teams with negative synergy scores why they think their team performed as it did. Then ask the teams with positive synergy scores why they think their teams performed well. Listen for evidence of good collaboration in the teams with positive synergy.

NASA Exercise Handout

You are a member of a space crew originally scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. Due to mechanical difficulties, however, your ship was forced to land at a spot some 200 miles from the rendezvous point. During the crash landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the trip. Below are listed the 15 items left intact and undamaged after landing. Your task is to rank them in terms of their importance in allowing your crew to reach the rendezvous point.

Step 1: Without communicating with team members, rank each item in order of importance. Place the number 1 by the most important item, the number 2 by the second-most important, and so on through number 15, the least important. Record these in the column labelled “Step 1.”

Step 2: Now, as a team, reconsider the items and come up with a new set of rankings. Record these in the column labelled “Step 2.”

Items Step 1 Your Ranking Step 2 Team Ranking Step 3 Expert’s Ranking Step 4 Difference* between Step 1&3 Step 5 Difference* between Step 2&3
Box of matches
Food concentrate
50 feet of nylon rope
Parachute silk
Portable heating unit
Two .45 caliber pistols
1  case dehydrated Pet milk
2 hundred-pound tanks of oxygen
Stellar map (of the moon’s constellation)
Life raft
Magnetic compass
5 gallons of water
Signal flares
First aid kit containing injection needles
Solar-powered FM receiver transmitter
Individual Score Team Score


*take the absolute values of the difference between your rankings and the expert rankings.

NASA Exercise Answer Key

From Hall & Watson, 1970

Correct answers Items
15 Box of matches
4 Food concentrate
6 50 feet of nylon rope
8 Parachute silk
13 Portable heating unit
11 Two .45 caliber pistols
12 1  case dehydrated Pet milk
1 2 hundred-pound tanks of oxygen
3 Stellar map (of the moon’s constellation)
9 Life raft
14 Magnetic compass
2 5 gallons of water
10 Signal flares
7 First aid kit containing injection needles
5 Solar-powered FM receiver transmitter


For the original individual task (instructions and answer key), see:

Hall, J., & Watson, W. H. (1970). The effects of a normative intervention on group decision-making performance. Human Relations, 23, 299–317.

For use of task as a group synergy task, see:

Meslec, N., & Curşeu, P. L. (2013). Too close or too far hurts cognitive distance and group cognitive synergy. Small Group Research, 44, 471–497.


I like that exercise

Box of matches, without air?
Magnetic compass, without magnetic camp?
Portable heating unit, isolated on space suits?
Case dehydrated Pet milk, without pets?
Two.45 caliber pistols, without Farwest?
Signal flares, through combustion without oxigen?
Life raft, without sea, ocean nor lake?
Parachute silk, without atmophere?
First aid kit containing injection needles, in the vacuum…?

Signal Flares are made of magnesium, and most likely since you are on the moon, have an oxygen supply, would be able to be used. The life-raft would be used to transport materials because it would slide on the dusty surface of the moon. Also, what did you mean by Farwest?

You do realize that several of the items can be used for other purposes. For example, the life raft (likely made of heavy, waterproof canvas) could be used as a way to tow an injured teammate, an emergency makeshift shelter in a storm, cut apart to make ropes or to be used as fabric for repairing something, etc. The exercise isn’t about what the items are, but what you and your team could innovate with them if needed.

How would NASA or space X rate these today?

I have 45 wrong… so….. do I live?

I’ve tried this exercise today. I felt the situation, items and answers should be revised to match the current technical situation. NASA utilise FM transmitter as communication now? There is no GPS in the ship? There are many questions in my mind…

I just don’t feel this exercise is accurate. My BS meter was in the red the whole time! I would also like NASA to give us their thoughts on this. I think leaving is suicide and you should wait for help in the spaceship!

1) There’s no such thing as a permanently lighted side of the moon. If night gets you, you die of cold. (But since daytime on the moon lasts 13 Earth days you probably can reach the mothership before nightfall if you’re lucky.)

2) Water will either freeze or boil in the tanks, they need to be thermally regulated before drinking. Just opening the tank would cause the water to boil off without atmospheric pressure. I don’t know of a space suit capable of being refilled with water while out.

3) Eating oustide the vehicle would also be problematic…

4) The stellar map is useless as I don’t think the stars are bright enough to be visible in daylight, even on the moon. If at night, see point 1).

5) Pistols for propulsion? It would bump you 10 inches… and the CO2 tank would get one of the crew a few hundred yards away. Fun, but futile.

6) Parachute silk for shielding the sun’s rays? That’s what the space suit is for.

7) Even if all of this worked, there is no need to prioritize. All of this would weigh about 300 pounds on Earth, so 50 pounds on the moon, and you can carry it all.

Of course, it’s just an exercise in social interaction. But without a solid grounding in fact, we can’t know by what standard to rank the objects, and the exercise’s results become random.

I love your response – my husband did this in a training today and he called BS on most of it, too!

I took this test in college in psyche class. We did it in groups only. It was somewhat different in that we only chose what we needed to survive and left the rest. Also we had a choice of alkaline or lithium batteries. I ended up in charge, cause the others weren’t getting it. I made up the list and i had all the correct answers, we won and i had to explain the logic. Everyone ask me how many times i crash landed on the moon. I just laughed.

Since they landed on the brightside of the moon how would stellar maps be important? I thought the light side is too bright to see stars.

I’m with Mark Watney on this one. Total BS!

Parachute silk on a moon mission?
The moon has no atmosphere so a parachute would be useless.

As for Setse Nalev’s reasoning on having an oxygen supply to use the magnesium flares, as soon as you open the valve on the cylinder the oxygen would escape into the vacuum of space.

Infact, you wouldn’t even have these extraneous items on your lunar module as it would add to the Mass of the craft which would make it harder to accelerate.
Newton’s 2nd law of motion F = MA

The “mothership” or command module, as it was actually called, didn’t ever land. It orbited the moon and the lunar module rendezvoused with it in orbit. So if you did crash land on the surface you would be screwed.

BTW. There were 6 successful moon landings between 1969 and 1972 so had Hall & Watson bothered to do their research (ie. Ask NASA) this exercise would be totally different.

Wow many of you are missing the point entirely.


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