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6-8 > Astronomy/Space
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Astronomy/Space Duration: Two class periods
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The Space Shuttle

Students will understand the following:
1. From April 1981 through January 1986, 25 space shuttle missions were conducted.
2. During the 25th launch, the space shuttle exploded, destroying the orbiterChallengerand killing its crew of seven.
3. The accident had a far-reaching impact on the space shuttle program, suspending launchings for more than two years, while both NASA and a presidential commission investigated the accident.

For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on the space shuttle
Computer with Internet access

1. Ask your students to share what they know about the space shuttle program.
2. Instructing students to take careful notes on what you are about to say, provide the class with the following information about the first space shuttle mission: The first space shuttle launch took place on April 12, 1981, when orbiterColumbia,carrying astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center.Columbialanded at Edwards Air Force Base in California on April 14, 1981, having made a 933,757-mile flight, orbiting Earth 36 times, and remaining aloft for 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, and 32 seconds. Its primary mission was to check out the overall shuttle system, and the only payload it carried was a development flight instrumentation package containing sensors and measuring devices to record data. The only problem encountered was a two-day delay of the launch because of a problem with one ofColumbia’s computers. The mission was considered a success. Give students a chance to ask you to repeat any information they missed in their notes.
3. Divide students into groups, assigning each group to research space shuttle missions numbers 2 through 25. The number of missions researched by each group will depend on how many groups there are.
4. Before students begin, have them analyze the information you have already given them about the first mission. Students should categorize the information in their notes and create a chart with row headings for each type of information. They will use the chart to fill in information they find from their research, heading each column with the number of the launch. (Example row headings students might use are Name of Orbiter, Name of Commander, Number of Crew Members, Date and Place of Launch, Date and Place of Landing, Purpose of Mission, Payload, Number of Days, Number of Orbits, Number of Miles, Problems, and Success or Failure?)
5. When each group has planned its chart and had its headings approved, it may begin its research. The following Web address will lead them (and you) to all the necessary information:science.
6. When all charts have been completed, post them on a bulletin board for a history of the space shuttle, 1981-1986.
7. Have interested students do further research to find out about the space shuttle program from 1986 to the present. Encourage them to find out what changes were recommended and implemented by NASA and the presidential commission that investigated the disaster of mission number 25.
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Have students find out and explain, in technical terms, what went wrong with the space shuttle’s tragic 25th mission.
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Discussion Questions

1. The first landing of astronauts on the moon was a tremendous source of pride for Americans. Do you think that the country still has as much national pride in our space program as it did then? Why or why not?
2. Discuss whether or not we should try to send humans to Mars—an expensive proposition, but one that might yield a great deal of scientific information. Consider whether we should more fully understand the Earth before moving on to another planet and whether we have a right to try to inhabit Mars just because we have the technology to do so.
3. Are we learning enough from the space shuttle missions to justify the billion-dollar price tag for each launch? Who should pay for these trips? Who benefits from them?
4. Discuss the importance of computer simulations to the space program. Could astronauts be trained properly without them? Can every dangerous situation be properly simulated? Why or why not?
5. The space shuttle program was designed with the building of an international space station as its final goal. This goal has yet to be reached. Do you think that different nations are capable of working together toward such an ambitious, costly goal? How should we decide which countries are allowed to be involved in building and using space stations?
6. Do you have the “right stuff” to be an astronaut? Discuss the educational backgrounds of the people on board the space shuttle. What are the similarities? What are the differences? How does educational diversity make a stronger shuttle team?
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You can evaluate your students on their charts and research using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:headings cover all categories of information; information complete and accurate; chart carefully prepared
Two points:headings cover most categories of information; information nearly complete and mostly accurate; chart satisfactorily prepared
One point:headings cover few categories of information; information incomplete with many inaccuracies; chart carelessly prepared
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many categories of information should appear on a chart as row headings.
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Models and Diagrams
Have students research the construction of the space shuttle and make a diagram or model of it including the following major components:
  • Orbiter (carries crew)
  • Cargo bay (part of orbiter; carries payload)
  • External fuel tank (stores nearly one-half million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants)
  • Twin 150-foot-tall solid rocket boosters (strapped to external tank; generate more than six million pounds of thrust at liftoff and jettisoned two minutes into flight; recovered and reused)
Each diagram or model should be labeled and accompanied by a description of each component.

Shuttle Debate
Have students thoroughly research the space shuttle program; then have them debate the following resolution: It is worthwhile to send humans into space, even though unmanned spacecraft missions cost less and involve less danger.

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Suggested Readings

Space Camp: The Great Adventure For NASA Hopefuls
by Anne Baird, Morrow Junior Books, 1992.
ISBN 0-688-10227-1, LC 91-21587

Living in Space
by Don Berliner, Lerner, 1993.
ISBN 0-8225-1599-7 LC 92-24847

Shuttle Challenger
by David Shayler, Prentice Hall, 1987.
ISBN 0-13-125147-3 LC 86-30228

Living and Working in Space
by Ray Spangenburg, Facts On File, 1989.
ISBN 0-8160-1849-9 LC 89-1213.

Space Exploration: Opposing Viewpoints
by Charles P. Cozic, editor, Greenhaven, 1992.
ISBN 0-89908-197-5 LC 92-8149

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It's About TIMED [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Careers in Space [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

The Space Shuttle
What is an external tank, solid rocket booster, crew cabin, cargo bay, and main engine and what do they do? With this interactive map of the space shuttle, you'll find the answers to these questions and much more.

The NASA Shuttle Web Archives
Students can research the details of past and recent shuttle missions and plan for their involvement with future launches. Names of astronauts, launch dates, press releases and mission statements are but a sample of the information provided here by NASA.

The Space Educator's Handbook
This engaging and fun website will provide a variety of cross-curricular ideas for studying space. Check out the space movies, spinoffs, stamp collections, coloring book, art, science fiction and comic books for great ideas for student projects. This site provides useful materials for preparing visual aids for transparencies and bulletin boards.

NASA Space Link
NASA Space Link is an electronic information system designed to provide current educational information to teachers and students throughout the United States.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    astronaut
Definition:A person trained to travel beyond the earth's atmosphere.
Context:A space shuttle mission usually requires seven astronauts

speaker    simulator
Definition:A device which allows a person to reproduce or represent, under test or training conditions, phenomena likely to occur in an real performance.
Context:To learn how to perform in a real zero gravity situation in space, astronauts practice their jobs in a free falling aircraft which acts as a simulator.

speaker    thrust
Definition:A forward directed reaction force produced by a high speed jet of fluid discharged rearward from a nozzle.
Context:Burning fuel in the booster rockets causes expanding gases exiting the bottom of the tanks to thrust the launch vehicle into space.

speaker    jettison
Definition:The action of casting off an object.
Context:Once the shuttle is ready to enter orbit the booster rockets are jettisoned from the shuttle and allowed to parachute back Earth for reuse.

speaker    payload
Definition:The load that is carried by a spacecraft that consists of things related directly to the purpose of the flight as opposed to things that are necessary for operations.
Context:The Hubble Space Telescope is the most famous payload carried into orbit by the space shuttle.

speaker    quarantine
Definition:To isolate from normal relations or communications.
Context:Astronauts are quarantined for up to seven days before a mission for medical observation in an isolated environment.

speaker    bay
Definition:The cargo area of a transport vehicle.
Context:Many satellites transported into space have been stored in the space shuttle's cargo bay, which is about the size of one and a half school buses.

speaker    orbit
Definition:The path that one body takes around another body as a result of their mutual gravitational attraction.
Context:When the booster rockets are jettisoned, it is only gravity which keeps the space shuttle in orbit around the earth.

speaker    zero gravity
Definition:A condition of real or simulated sensation of weightlessness.
Context:Although the gravitational attraction keeping an astronaut in orbit continues to exist, the astronaut is said to be in a zero gravity state.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:9-12
Subject area:Science
Understands motion and the principles that explain it.
Knows that objects change their motion only when a net force is applied; whenever one object exerts force on another, an equal amount of force is exerted back on the first object.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:science
Knows the kinds of forces that exist between objects and within atoms.
Knows that gravity is a universal force that each mass exerts on any other mass; the strength of thegravitational attractive force between two masses is proportional to the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that women and men of diverse interests, talents, qualities and motivations and of various social and ethnic backgrounds, engage in the activities of science, engineering and related fields; some scientists work in teams, some work alone, but all communicate with others.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that progress in science and technology can relate to social issues and challenges (e.g., funding priorities, health problems).

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands the interactions of science, technology and society.
Knows that science often advances with the introduction of new technologies and solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge; new technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new arenas of research.

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