Language selection


Top of page

Pollinating pulleys

Create a system for the Lunar Gateway that uses at least a simple pulley mechanism to pollinate plants in space. You can also add as many other simple mechanisms as you like to your system.

Grade level

Grades 6 to 8

Text version of infographic entitled "The engineering design process"

The engineering design process

  • Problem or challenge
    • Define the problem
    • Identify the constraints on your solution (e.g. time, money, materials) and criteria for success
    • Brainstorm multiple solutions for the problem
    • Select the most promising solution
    • Prototype your solution
    • Test and evaluate your prototype
    • Iterate to improve your prototype
    • Communicate your solution

Infographic entitled "The engineering design process". (Credit: Canadian Space Agency [CSA])


As we prepare to travel to the Moon and eventually to Mars, we need to better understand how to grow food in space and on other planets.

When the wind blows on Earth, it can take the pollen from one plant to another to help grow new plants. Various insects and birds can also help the pollination process as they land on flowers and carry pollen onto the next flower. As a matter of fact, one of the most efficient pollinators is the bumblebee, because it reaches directly in the middle of the flower.

In space, there is no wind, no insects and no birds. Canadian scientists are doing research on how to efficiently grow nutritious food in space, such as vegetables, fruits and grains. Devices called pollinators may be required to carry the pollen to make sure new plants can grow to help feed astronauts.


What is pollination and how does it work? Pollination is taking the seeds from the male part of the flower and sharing them with the female part of another flower. This process will fertilize the seeds and then the flower will be able to produce a fruit. So we cannot have plants without pollination.

Scientists are exploring how technologies like robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence could help us with space pollination.

Keep in mind that plants of the same species are needed to pollinate each other. Most plants and trees can't pollinate themselves. They rely on cross-pollination to make things work. Your challenge will be to design a pollination system to help do research on how to grow food in space.

Suggested materials

Text version of infographic showing a few cardboard cutting and folding techniques

A few cardboard cutting and folding techniques

  • Flange
  • L-brace
  • Tabs
  • Slot + cut
  • Slot + tab
  • String

A few cardboard cutting and folding techniques. (Credit: CSA)


Simple mechanisms

  • What are the important parts of a pulley?
  • How can they be useful in your pollination system?
  • What other simple mechanism can you add to your design?
  • How do they differ from high-tech or complex mechanisms?
    Think about one of your last adventures: where do you think you saw simple mechanisms in action (construction sites, shipyards, mechanic shop, etc.)?
  • What are some common features and differences between both?


  • What are pollinators?
  • Why are they important? What do they do?
  • When you go on a picnic, you can pack cans and a variety of food with you. Can we just pack cans of food for space missions? Imagine having to plan all the food you need for a trip of three months or more and having to stock it. What would you bring?
  • Make connections between simple mechanisms and your pollinator. What can you use to replicate the role of wind, the insect, or bird in the pollination process? Can you develop a system to allow for the pollen of one flower to be transferred to another?
  • How can you recreate wind, or the pollination process using technology like robotics or automation?
  • How will the materials that are available affect our design possibilities?


From your brainstorming session, identify the most promising idea and try to sketch it out on paper. Please try to label the important features and the materials you will need.


Example of pulley used in a pollination system. (Credit: CSA)

Example of pulleys used as part of a pollination system between two plants. (Credit: CSA)

Let's build a pollinator using a pulley mechanism.

  1. Build a system to pollinate at least two flowers. Decide how far apart your plants will be.

    If you don't have live plants, don't worry! You can make cardboard ones to test your pollinator mechanism.

  2. Design and build your system, and be sure to integrate a simple pulley system that will deliver pollen between the two plants.

    You may want to use rope or string with your pulley system to carry the pollination process from one flower to another. Keep in mind that your rope will need to be a little more than twice the length of the distance between your plants.

    What will you use to pollinate the flowers? Will you use a small stick, cotton ball, or a different material?

  3. When you activate the mechanism, either by turning a wheel, or pulling on the rope, the pollinator will go from plant to plant and begin the pollination process.

  4. After you are done building your pollinator, make sure it can stand on its own. You may want to reinforce your structure with other materials so it doesn't topple over.




Taking it further

Curriculum links

Explore further

Date modified: