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Teacher Lesson Helper: Our Future in Space

Teacher Tips

A new space race is on! Forty years ago, this nation was caught up in the exciting and monumental effort to put a man on the moon. Today, NASA has plans to send humans to the moon once again—this time in preparation for a possible human mission to Mars! With this online Special Report, let the spirit of space exploration capture students' imaginations just as it did in the 1960s. Read about the country's planned missions to the moon and Mars and the technological advances that might make such missions possible in your students' lifetimes. Then check out the other fascinating space stories in the report. The following lesson plans and activities will help you turn the Special Report into a theme unit that's out of this world!

Lesson 1:
Mission to Mars

Materials: Missions to Mars (PDF reproducible)

Curriculum Connections: language arts/research, science/solar system

Objective: Students will research and write about one of the major U.S. missions to Mars from the past three decades.

Getting Ready:
Ask students to share what they already know about Mars, or have them look up a few facts online, such as color (red), surface (rocky, with canyons and mountains), or size (4,222 miles across). Ask students to think about how people came to know these bits of information. Point out that although no human has yet set foot on Mars, we have been sending spacecraft to study this planet since the early 1970s. Explain that students are going to learn about some of our country's key missions to Mars.

What to Do:
1. Distribute copies of the PDF and read the directions together. Invite students to select one Mars mission from the box. You may wish to divide students into five teams to promote cooperative learning and to ensure that each mission is researched.
2. Explain that students can find the basic facts about each mission in the Technology section of this Special Report.
3. Encourage students to try to uncover other interesting facts about each mission. They can search the Net or consult print sources such as almanacs. For example, students might find out:
How did the mission get its name?
How long did the mission last?
4. Have students share their findings with the class. As a class, discuss how the outcome of each mission might contribute to the possibility of human life on Mars. Did the mission teach us something that we need to know in order to visit the Red Planet? If so, what?

Extending the Lesson:
One Mars mission that is not discussed in the report is the Mars Global Surveyor. For homework, have students complete a Mars Mission card for the Surveyor.

Lesson 2:
Send Me to the Moon

Materials: Send Me to the Moon (PDF reproducible)

Curriculum Connections: language arts/persuasive writing, science, critical thinking

Objective: Students will use persuasive writing techniques to explain why they should be chosen for an imaginary mission to a lunar station.

Getting Ready:
Have students discuss whether they'd be interested in living on the moon for several months. Brainstorm the qualities a person would need to be so far from family and friends for an extended time and the difficulties they might face. Then review or introduce some techniques of persuasive writing. A well-written persuasive essay usually begins with a strong and clear statement of the writer's argument and supports that statement with several relevant examples or details. It often ends with a restatement of the writer's position. Students can read newspaper editorials for effective models.

What to Do:
1. Distribute the reproducible and review the questions together. Give an example of why someone might apply for a spot on a moon station (for example, to study how vegetables grow in space). Have students write their own responses.
2. Review students' work. Use the finished moon station applications along with moon illustrations and facts to create a lively lunar-themed bulletin board.

Extending the Lesson:
Have students interview older family members about their memories of the 1969 lunar landing. Questions might include: (1) Where were you and what were you doing at the time of the landing? (2) How did the achievement make you feel? and (3) Did you want to go to the moon?

Lesson 3
Space Scramble

Materials: Space Scramble (PDF reproducible)

Curriculum Connections: science, language arts/reading comprehension, vocabulary

Objective: Students will use what they have learned in the online Special Report to recall and unscramble key space-related words.

Getting Ready:
Have students read the online articles. If you wish, have them record and define new words and phrases in a notebook.

What to Do:
1. Distribute the reproducible and have students read the space clues. Challenge them to unscramble the key words.
2. Have students correct their own work or trade papers as you review the answers.
3. Have students look back in the online articles for other key words or phrases related to space exploration. Invite each student to write one space word scramble question for a partner to decipher.

[Answers to PDF: 1. Red Planet; 2. Hubble; 3. mice; 4. gravity; 5. robots; 6. orbit; 7. volcanoes; 8. simulation.]

Lesson 4:
Animals in Space

Materials: Astro-Animals (PDF reproducible)

Curriculum Connections: science, math, interpreting a time line

Objective: Students will read a time line to understand the history and purpose of animals in space.

Getting Ready:
Read the online article titled "Dizzy Mice" in the Red Planet section of the Special Report. Discuss why NASA scientists want to send mice into space. Ask students if they know of any other animals that have been launched into space.

What to Do:
1. Distribute copies of the PDF and read the time line together. Ask students to identify the beginning and ending years on the time line (1945 and 2005). Ask how many years each marked interval on the line represents (10).
2. Have students work on their own to answer the time line questions.
3. Review students' work using the answer key below. Then discuss why each animal voyage described on the time line was important to human space travel.

Extending the Lesson:
Many animal astronauts have died in space or during their re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. For example, Laika, the Russian dog that went into space in 1957, ran out of oxygen and died at the end of her journey. Have students debate the issues surrounding the use of animals in the space program: Is it fair to send animals into space when we know they may not make it back? Does the potential benefit to humans outweigh the risk to the animals? Is the use of animals in space exploration comparable to medical research on animals? Why or why not?

[Answers to PDF: 1. 1957; 2. A chimp named Enos; 3. 31 years (in the year 2004); 4. Space shuttles allowed people to ride along with animals and study them while in space; 5. 1970, to study how space affects balance.]

Lesson 5:
Mars Models

Materials: salt dough or store-bought modeling dough, strong paper plates, utensils for sculpting the dough (toothpicks, spoons, pencils, etc.)

Curriculum Connections: science, visual arts

Objective: Students will create clay models of the Martian surface.

Getting Ready:
Divide students into pairs or small groups. Prepare a large batch of salt dough by mixing 5 cups salt, 6 cups flour, and 3 cups water. (This will make enough for 5 to 6 groups; you will need to multiple the recipe for a larger class.) Add a few drops of red food coloring to mimic Mars' rust-colored surface. Or, purchase some red modeling dough (about two containers per team).

What to Do:
1. Have students read about the physical features of Mars in this Special Report. The Technology and All About Space sections describe some of the amazing surface characteristics of the planet: volcanoes, polar caps, canyons, boulders, etc.
2. Provide each pair or group with a paper plate and enough dough or clay to thickly cover the bottom of the plate. Have students spread the dough over the plate and use pencils, toothpicks, and other tools to sculpt the dough into a Martian landscape. Provide some extra dough that students can use to add mountains and rocks to their models.
3. Have students point out the features of their landscapes to the rest of the class.