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Space Age Living: Building the International Space Station
Grade Level: 5-8
Curriculum Focus: Astronomy and Space Science, Technology
Project Overview
Online Components
National Standards Correlations
Using the Project in Your Classroom
Discovery TV Special: Inside the Space Station
Project Overview
How do your students envision our future in space exploration? Will we have colonies on the moon? Will we send a manned mission to Mars? These visions may seem like science fiction today, but many experts believe they are within our reach. To make these dreams a reality, humans need to gain a better understanding of space, microgravity, and its long-term effects on humans. This is why the International Space Station is our stepping stone into the future of space exploration. This permanent laboratory in space will enable people to live and study in the unique environment of Earth?s orbit. The ISS will also benefit humans back on Earth, as crews aboard the space station will perform long-duration research that could lead to medical advancements, new materials, and breakthroughs in technology.
Building the International Space Station is an awesome endeavor, requiring the collaboration of 16 nations, over $60 million, at least eight years of construction, and 46 space flights. This project was designed to introduce students to all the facets of the International Space Station, show them how this incredible complex will come together, and encourage them to share their own thoughts of our future in space.
Online Components
Mission Basics
Students will find answers to all the essential questions about the space station, such as Who is building it? Why is it being built? and Where is it right now? Each section includes a quick sidebar with additional facts and an interactive video or virtual tour that takes them inside the space station.
Putting it Together
This interactive feature shows students how the many components of the space station will come together?like a huge Lego project in the sky! Students can learn about the station?s assembly in a number of ways: They can watch a video that shows how each component will be added, beginning with the first Russian module, Zarya. They can also drag the cursor along a time line to see how the station will look each year. Finally, they can click the names of some of the major components to learn about each one. (Note: Remind students that there are over 100 different pieces to the ISS. Only a few major pieces have been featured here.) Along the way, you?ll find a few ?Try This? activities, investigations that highlight the science being used aboard the station. Students will learn about the station?s water flow, electricity, insulation, and gyroscopes used to keep the station in correct orientation and distance from Earth.
Speak Out
Encourage students to take part in a nationwide poll about our future in space. They can vote in any of the four polls at any time, but you may want to focus on one poll per week, discussing the topic with the class before voting. Here are some of the poll questions:
  • Imagine NASA is looking for volunteers to live aboard the International Space Station for four months. Would you volunteer?
  • Do you think people like you will be living in space before the year 2100?
  • If you could live on the space station, how long would you want to stay?
  • If you had to live in space, would you rather live on a space station orbiting Earth or on another planet?

You Said It!
The Speak Out poll gives kids a chance to share their opinions in a quick and easy format, creating a snapshot of kids? views. ?You Said It!? asks students more probing questions, giving them a chance to answer questions in their own words. Students? messages will be reviewed before they are posted, but we encourage you to review their answers before they submit them online. There are four ongoing questions for kids to answer:
  • What would be the best thing about living in space?
  • If you lived in space, what do you think you?d miss most about Earth?
  • You?re going to live on the space station, but you can take only one personal belonging. What would you bring?
  • Explain why you would rather live on a space station or on another planet if you had to live in space.

Name the Space Station
The space station needs a name! Many of the individual components have names?such as the Russian control module, Zarya (for ?sunrise?), and the first U.S. module, Unity. But what will we call the space station when it?s complete? This section asks students to come up with their own name for the space station and explain their choice. This is an ideal opportunity to talk about the purpose and future of the space station. How is it important, unique, or extraordinary? This discussion should spark several ideas for a final name for the space station. Students? messages will be reviewed before they are posted, but we encourage you to review their answers before they submit them online.
National Standards Correlations
The content and activities in this project help students meet the following content standards for grades 5-8, as described in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council):
Earth and Space Science
Students should develop an understanding of Earth in the solar system.
Physical Science
Students should develop an understanding of motions and forces.
Science and Technology
Students should develop an understanding of science and technology.
Using the Project in Your Classroom
ISS: Making Science Fiction a Reality
As an introduction to this project, ask students to brainstorm what the next 100 years holds for our future in space. How far will astronauts travel into the solar system? Will people be living off our planet Earth? (You could ask them to discuss why humans may someday need to live in space, touching on issues of overpopulation on Earth.) List their ideas on the board. Now ask them to consider why humans haven?t been able to make these strides yet. What do we need to learn before we can travel further into space? Encourage students to think about the long-term travel that will be required to take these next steps. For example, a mission to Mars would take about three years. We need to learn how to survive in space for months and years at a time before we can take on such missions. Explain that this is one of the main reasons for building the International Space Station?to learn how to live in space for extended periods of time. Although the ISS is not designed to leave Earth?s orbit, it is a stepping stone to the future of space exploration.
Many Countries, One Goal
Explain to students that the International Space Station will require millions of dollars, many years, and incredible brainpower from the world?s brightest scientists and engineers. If we as humans are to meet this challenge, it is no wonder that it will require the collaboration of many countries. Have students visitWho is Building It?under Mission Basics to find out which 16 countries are working together on the space station. Locate these countries on a world map in your classroom. For a brief overview of the unique contributions from each partner, visitWho Does What, from Then learn about some of the major components being built by each country inPutting it Together.
Results and more questions
Explore the sectionWhy is it being built?under Mission Basics with your students. What do scientists hope to learn from the weightless environment of the space station? Why will they be keeping a close watch on the astronauts aboard the station? (They are studying the effects of microgravity on the human body?such as the loss of bone and muscle.) Remind students that Earth?s species, including humans, have evolved over time to adapt to their environment. On Earth, gravity is a defining part of that environment. Imagine how humans might evolve if we begin to live and reproduce in colonies in space. How is the environment in space different from that on earth? Since the human body is designed for a world with gravity, how might humans evolve to live in a weightless environment? What changes might occur in the human?s bones and muscles? Now consider how humans might evolve if they colonized other planets withgreatergravity than Earth.
Life Aboard the Space Station
To learn about day-to-day life on the station, visitHow will astronauts live there?Then have students write a fictional journal describing one week aboard the space station. Ask them to consider the challenges of space, as well as things they miss most about Earth. Encourage them to include sketches or illustrations, such as their views of Earth from the station or scientific experiments they?re working on.
Discovery TV Special: Inside the Space Station
Airing: Sunday, December 10 from 9-10 PM on Discovery Channel
Program Description: The first two components of the Space Station were assembled in space in December 1998. Since then, the steadily growing structure of the International Space Station has orbited the Earth every 90 minutes, 220 miles high in the sky. Once completed in 2006, the Station will be the third brightest object in the night sky, visible to the naked eye.Inside the Space Stationshows viewers what the finished station will look like and how astronauts will construct this ambitious project.

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