Life Beyond: bringing the thrill of space exploration to prisons

Home > Life Beyond: bringing the thrill of space exploration to prisons

06 May 2021

A Moon station designed by participants at HMP Glenochil.

The University of Edinburgh’s ‘Life Beyond’ project inspires learners in prison to explore and produce designs of settlements beyond Earth.

With a variety of resources for students and educators available to download and print out, the activities provide prison staff with a guide to teaching the course, with space for flexibility in delivery as they see fit. Materials are being distributed to prisons in partnership with Prisoners’ Education Trust.

Life Beyond was introduced in Scottish prisons during 2016. Since then, the work produced by participants has been published by the British Interplanetary Society in two books – Life Beyond: From Prison to Mars and Life Beyond: From Prison to the Moon – with proceeds supporting the Society’s space education projects.

The project was designed to bring the thrill of space exploration and settlement to [learners in prison], to release their creative talents, and to allow them to contribute to global efforts to explore and settle space in a very real way.

The books are shared with organisations including the European Astronaut Centre (part of the European Space Agency), space engineers in NASA, and other prominent, pioneering organisations. Prison learners have won Koestler Arts awards for their ‘Life Beyond’ designs, and the project was cited in the EuroPris report as an example of best practice in prison education.

A tourist poster enticing people to come to Mars. Image drawn by a participant of the Life Beyond project at HMP Glenochil.

Introducing the course in prisons

During 2020 and 2021, prison education was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions in course delivery, interaction with learners and more. The UKCA responded to these obstacles by transforming standalone materials which are designed to both facilitate group engagement with the project, and enable independent in-cell participation.

There are two variations of the ‘Life Beyond’ activities: the Full Course and the Short Activities pack. Both assist students in prison to design a Mars or lunar settlement, from writing to origami to contributing to a Martian and lunar cookbook.

Learning outcomes of the project are diverse, including:

  • Improving scientific knowledge, literacy skills, numeracy skills, and organisational skills (studying, collating and analysing information)
  • Engaging participants in art projects, including creative writing, and in discussions about the long-term goals of society and what it takes to hold together a society.
  • Introducing students to distance learning, empowering them to pursue other courses in this format.

Download the Life Beyond resources here:

Life Beyond: Full Course

This four-module course is designed to be completed during two or three months, assisting the student to design a settlement in space through a creative medium of their choice, such as writing or drawing.

Read a blog by Life Beyond founder Charles Cockell here

The first module introduces students to the outer space lifestyle essentials, from planning a meal to considering daily exercise to reflecting on potential challenges. In the next module, they begin their design of a new space station.

The third module entails embarking on a space adventure on the planet of their choice, after which they’ll produce a creative souvenir from the journey. In the fourth module, students evaluate how their new space station and its society should function. This is an opportunity to consider rules of governance, and consider the key aspects of an ideal society.

Learners do not need prior knowledge, experience or skills in design, engineering or space to participate. Work produced is welcome for submission to the ‘Life Beyond’ team at the University of Edinburgh, where designs are published. Read about where to send prison learners’ work here.

Life Beyond: Short Activities

This pack comprises a selection of individual activities, each to be completed in one afternoon. Tasks include: writing a letter from Mars; contributing to a Martian and lunar cookbook; creating a souvenir from a space adventure; planning sports activities on the moon; and designing a Martian government.

A station design conceived and drawn by participants in the Life Beyond project at HMP Glenochil in 2019.

Life Beyond: Origami Bonus Activity

A bonus activity of space exploration, ‘Origami for Space’, invites students to try an origami-folding technique. This activity is used to assess the focus criteria during the Japanese astronaut selection process, and complements both the Full Course and Short Activities pack.

One group of participants wrote Martian Blues music! Participants do need to have a little enthusiasm for space exploration, because that’s what this course is about – creative expression and innovation.

If you would like to involve the people that you support in prison with Life Beyond, get in touch with the project team here, or email PET’s Head of Policy Francesca Cooney.

This station design was created by participants in the Life Beyond course at HMP Glenochil.

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