Sunday, June 5, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond!

This summer marks the end of an era.

Mission STS-135 will be the final mission for NASA’s space shuttle program, an innovative project that made its first official launch in 1981. The idea for a reusable spacecraft was tossed around back in the 1960s, and in 1972, President Richard Nixon announced that NASA would begin work on the space shuttle program. To date, there have been 134 missions, with one left to go. Of those missions, two ended in disaster. The losses of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles, with their entire crews, are tragedies that are still etched in the memories of many people worldwide. The Challenger mission, with teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard, was particularly difficult for many students to emotionally process. According to NASA, the shuttle missions have resulted in a 2% death rate per astronaut per flight – a very low rate of risk. Despite the relative frequency and familiarity of shuttle launches, however, space missions are still journeys into the relative unknown, still explorations into the heart of darkness.

The value of space exploration has long been a controversial topic, with opponents citing fiscal waste and proponents championing valuable knowledge gained about our universe and our origins. For many students, space exploration is a compelling topic, and one that they eagerly embrace. There’s a certain romance to exploration in general: tales of polar expeditions, journeys west across the American frontier, and plumbing the depths of the sea have long been classroom favorites. The courage and daring demonstrated by explorers (including astronauts) aptly illustrates the human need to know, to understand the world around us and to keep striving for sometimes unknown heights. We look, we wonder, we explore – it’s the human condition. This eternal curiosity and the quest for knowledge also characterizes the very essence of education, and the ability to make connections, generate new ideas, and to simply understand. Space is the birthplace of our planet, and someday, space will reclaim it. To probe the heavens and to study space and its contents is to help understand our place in the universe, how life on our planet came to be, and perhaps what our future holds. It’s one of the few mysterious environments left for us to explore, and it’s a vast one.

My featured resources this week focus on space exploration and some of the skills necessary to work or maneuver in this unfamiliar environment. I’ll be featuring many more resources on this topic for all ages on our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check those pages regularly.

Training to Work in Space
Grade: 3-5
Astronauts are trained to work in space in stressful conditions. Jobs that must be completed in space are practiced many times on Earth so that astronauts will be able to complete them in a more stressful space environment. Students will experience some training as they practice assembling a support for a solar array. They will discover that using strategies and repeat practice allows them to complete the job with more skill and less time. This lesson was produced by Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which offers a broad array of mission-based space science activities. Challenger Center takes over 400,000 kids annually through simulated space missions, and also offers a host of educational materials for teachers.

Navigating a Spacecraft
Subjects: Space sciences, Math
Grade: 5-8
In this activity students work in pairs to plot the paths (trajectories) of a spacecraft traveling between Earth and Mars in the year 2018 and returning in 2020. These paths use the minimum amount of fuel, and take about six months to travel from one planet to the other. This lesson was produced by Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which aims to create a scientifically literate population that can thrive in the 21st century and beyond. A network of Challenger Learning Centers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and South Korea offers diverse classroom programming and community outreach programs for kids.

Space Exploration Using Photo Story
Subjects: US History, Space Science, English
Grade: 11
Students research the American space exploration program in the context of the Cold War, and use Photo Story to create a presentation using photos of space program, key figures, and documents in order to present their findings to their classmates. This lesson is a product of HotChalk Learning, a portal that provides an online learning management system and lesson plans.

~Joann's Picks - 6/3/2011~


  1. Very interesting and informative article indeed about NASA's shuttle . I have to admit that I always follow all news about this, so it was quite interesting to read this your post about this subject. Reading this your entry I have even noticed some new information which I haven’t known before. Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting post and I will be waiting for other great news from you in the nearest future.

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  2. Thanks - glad you liked the post. If you take a look at our Twitter and/or Facebook pages, we featured lots more info on the shuttle, including a link to current spacecraft designs that could replace the shuttle. Neat stuff!


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