Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Space Oddities and Sensations: Inspiring Teaching and Learning

In honor of  Col. Chris Hadfield's revised version of David Bowie's Space Oddity recorded on board the International Space Station [Published on May 12, 2013), the new Star Trek movie (which I haven't seen yet but look forward to - no spoilers, please) and "S" week at ABCWednesday,  this post presents ideas for teaching, learning, and inspiring students of all ages about the oddities and sensational aspects of space.

Commander Hadfield commanded the International Space Station (ISS) for six months and along with his colleagues oversaw hundreds of biological and physical experiments that will pave the way for future space exploration. Hadfield has done extensive tweeting, and posted hundreds of original photographs and numerous videos. 

For more on Commander Chris Hadfield, please see:
Here are just a few of his photographs (and his captions) taken from the ISS (International Space Station):
Col. Chris Hadfield (5/12/13) Dr. Seuss-inspired swirls in the Black Sea
Col. Chris Hadfield: Moonset, one of 16 per day on ISS (5/7/2013)
Col. Chris Hadfield: Mississippi delta - heartland topsoil flowing relentlessly into the Gulf of Mexico (5/7/13)
Col. Chris Hadfield: The starkest of beauty, in Saudi Arabia (5/3/2013)
Col. Chris Hadfield: A splash of dry white salt on seared red in Australia's agonizingly beautiful Outback (4/18/13)
Col. Chris Hadfield: Mt. Etna pouring heat and steam up through the snowcap (3/25/2013)

Col. Chris Hadfield: The Florida Keys look especially vulnerable from orbit (3/29/2013)
Inspired yet!?!  


1. NEXT GENERATION CREW SPACE  TRANSPORTATION AND  EXPLORATION VEHICLE -  ORION - an ongoing NASA project has multiple educational ramifications.

A brief overview: The Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is new-generation manned spacecraft for space travel and exploration beyond-low-earth-orbit. It will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry crews to space - to the moon, to near-Earth asteroids and eventually to Mars. It is capable of conducting regular in-space operations (such as rendezvousing and docking) and has the capability to be a backup system for  International Space Station cargo and crew delivery.

What makes this so special aside from the state-of-the-art mechanics and technology incorporated into the vehicle and its intended missions, is that it also represents a departure for NASA as much of its construction is being done by private companies.  Below is the short list, for details consult this NASA link:
  • Lockheed Martin is building the Orion Crew Module;
  • Boeing developed a vehicle management computer system based on integrated modular avionics technology;
  • The European Space Agency is constructing the service module
  • Alliant Techsystems (ATK) facilities in Utah and Maryland tested the abort and attitude control motors for Orion's launch and abort system;
  • The UltraFlex solar array concept was developed by ATK
  • Hamilton Sundstrand's engineers in Connecticut, Illinois and Houston have developed Orion's intricate life-support and power systems;
  • Honeywell has developed intelligent avionics and software that support data, communications and navigation;
  • Ball Aerospace Technologies Corporation are working with NASA and Lockheed Martin on the STORRM (Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation) rendezvous and docking sensor assembly with a docking camera that has 16 times the resolution of the current shuttle sensors;
  • Aerojet was awarded the jettison motor design and development contract for the LAS (Launch Abort System)
Click here for details of the Orion engineering and building - the details, diagrams and photographs are absolutely breath-taking.

According to a NASA Orion Spacecraft Overview:
Image courtesy of www.nasa.gov
Orion features dozens of technology advancements and innovations...unique life support, propulsion, thermal protection and avionics systems in combination with other elements will enable extended duration deep space missions... Orion will utilize advances in ...  communications, life support, structural design, navigation and power...With destinations including near-Earth asteroids, our own Moon, the moons of Mars and eventually Mars itself....
This May and June, tests are being run (in various phases) simulating launch, ascent, launch abort, launch abort system separation, reentry and landing. Lockheed Martin is conducting the tests based on a set of prototype flight requirements.  Lisa Kalis in The Wall Street Journal (Saturday/Sunday Review 5/18-19, 2013) reported on the latest test:
As it sped toward Earth from a height of 25,000 feet...one of its parachutes failed and another malfunctioned...and the model of NASA's Orion spacecraft landed safely in the Arizona desert.  The mishaps were planned and there are...more tests to come. Orion's big trial arrives next year, when it will fly unmanned 3,600 miles into space and then....[return] to Earth...The ultimate goal: to send people to deep space in 2021.
Please go to this link for an awesome info-graphic that just didn't copy well. It discusses the various physical components of Orion and compares it to the Apollo project: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324216004578483482868153310.html?KEYWORDS=exploring+Orion#articleTabs%3Dinteractive

  •  Video: NASA's Orion Space Capsule (from space.com) - This video provides the history of background of this project along with current testing and construction details. TEACHING IDEAS: 
    • Have students write press releases following (or predicting) the progress of Orion
    • Have students create fiction and non-fiction stories around the construction, launching and exploration projects of Orion based on research they do for background details.
  • Students can follow, chart, report, present, and analyze data on ongoing progress of Orion projects at: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/index.html - (addressing Common Core State Standards such as "Research to build and Present knowledge, Range of reading and level of text complexity; Comprehension and collaboration, presentation of knowledge and ideas, and Key ideas and details" - to name just a few).
  • Here is a link at NASA that focuses on Orion's Monthly Progress 
  • Students can explore the pros and cons of NASA's strategy to involve multiple private and international partners (addressing many of the Common Core State Standards such as "Research to build and Present knowledge, Range of reading and level of text complexity; Comprehension and collaboration, presentation of knowledge and ideas, and Key ideas and details" - to name just a few).
  • Students can compare structure and technologies of the new Orion vehicle versus the older Apollo crew vehicle.
  • Discuss budgetary issues and how have influenced and might continue to effect this project. Here is an article from The Wall Street Journal you might use to begin the lesson:  NASA Budget Priority: Asteroid Defense.

2. What it Feels like to Fly Over Planet Earth - a whirl-wind tour in one minute and two seconds taken from the front of the International Space Station as it orbits Earth at night. It moves over the Pacific Ocean, continuing over North and South America, before entering daylight near Antarctica. Pay attention to the lightning storms and the earth's ionosphere (the thin yellow line)!!

Teaching suggestions: Have students describe this 'trip around the world' writing travel logs, advertisements for space travel, or produce running commentary voice-overs for the video.  You may integrate this with a science project on clouds and what storms look like from above.

3. What Earth will look like 100 Million Years from now this video shows Earth as it was 100, million years ago, how it has changed to date, and how it will look in another 100 million years.

Teaching suggestions: Have students describe the changes over time.  Discuss global warming and tectonic pressure, and other factors that effect Earth's continents and water shelves.


4. A Modern View of Cosmology (or... as the conference director wanted to name it: We're All F***ed) -  is a talk for high-school and above by Lawrence Krauss (author of The Physics of Star Trek). Krauss talks about how modern day cosmology (studying the cosmos) has changed our perception of the past and future.  It is an hour lecture filled with facts, fables, and photos that make the laws of quantum physics understandable and interesting. Here is a synopsis:
While the star clusters on a clear night can blow you away, the really cool stuff are "the things you can't see - the mysterious stuff that dominates nature." The talk opens with Einstein's theory of relativity (1916) which stated that space curves in the presence of matter, or as Krauss puts it "gravity sucks" - as it pulls rather than pushes everything in. But this theory clashed with observation, that the universe was static - it was there and would be there - the way we saw it - forever. This clashing of science/math and observation bothered physicists at that time. We now know (thanks to Edward Hubble) that Einstein's theory was correct - the universe is expanding (and not static) and are now asking questions such as: Will the universe continue to expand forever? Or is it more like a closed sphere that will expand to a point and then explode upon itself?  Or, is it a flat, curved entity that will expand forever but eventually slow down or maybe eventually speed up? If it speeds up, the longer we wait, the less we'll see (except for our galaxy).

  •  NASA has a super link: Teaching From Space that includes lessons, resources, video links and more
  • Another resource, also sponsored by NASA is Amazing Space which uses the Hubble Space Telescope's discoveries to inspire and educate us all.  They have resources from "The Hubble Gallery", astronomy materials under their "Capture the cosmos" section, "Tonight's Sky", even Homework Help!
  • NASA and Fermi Labs have an AWESOME website devoted to black holes that has videos, FAQ sheets, Educator workshops, black hole science web sites, black hole activities for classrooms of all levels,  cool black hole games for all ages, and other black hole resources
  • http://www.space.com/video/  Some of their videos include:
    • How to bake a Mars Pellet - Curiosity's Drill Sampling
    • Bring Some Asteroid to Earth
    • The Back Hole - An Eruption in Space-Time
    • How Black Holes Got Super-massive
    • How Black Holes Build a Universe

This is just the tip of the iceberg and demands more space and time (which I hope to continue in future posts). In the meantime, please leave us with your favorite space images, inspirations, or space teaching/learning moments in the comments.

Thank you, as always, for your visit.


  1. Very scientific, Meryl! I enjoyed watching the videos! Amazing that there are still humans who think themselves important! We are nothing!Thanks for sharing this!
    Wil, ABCW Team.

  2. I have just discovered your Science blog by following a link in Ruby Tuesday. I taught high school math and science in in the mid 1960s and would have loved to have resources like you present here.

  3. Happy Tuesday to you; a very interesting sharing

    much love...

  4. Love hearing about space. One of my daughters just graduated with a degree in applied physics and wants to get into astrophysics.

  5. Meryl, this fascinating post is going to take me all day to watch and digest.
    Thank you so much for all the links.
    I watched the trip around the world in a minute...amazing.
    I do know what I will be doing this afternoon!

  6. This is...space-tacular! Really, Chris is a great teacher, and so are you! This post makes my monthly roundup of great links.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

    1. Wow, Roger. From you that means an awful lot. I appreciate it!

      In fact, thank you all for your comments and enthusiasm.

  7. Very awesome post. I will pass it on to my son who is a teacher!

    An Arkies Musings

  8. He managed to secure some spectacular and sensational photos while wiling away his time in space...lol I heard his son interviewed on local radio here not long ago and it was faScinating to liSten to him speak about his dad and his own role in the space project.

    abcw team

  9. Great tutorial! I enjoyed watching the videos. Thank you.

  10. OMG, all in one place, this is my weekend video watching. I have been hearing about commander hadfield. for once someone who should be a you tube sensation. I am going to make my daughter read your post as well before she gets to see Star Trek

    happy WW

  11. Hey, I'm a new follower from WW Hop! Love the photo of the moon!

    I'd love it if you can follow me back! :)