Space Day Activities
Celebrate Space Day on May 7th with aerospace lessons that are sure to get kids excited about science and engineering!
By Jennifer Sinsel
“Begin countdown to liftoff – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 . . . We have main engine start - 2,1, 0 . . . ignition ---- We have LIFTOFF!”
Amidst the cheering at Mission Control, the Delta Rocket blasts off, and begins its fantastic voyage to the Red Planet. As the stages separate, the capsule containing a Mars Exploration Rover (MER) completes a burn that will take it to its final destination, a site near Gusev Crater believed to have once contained an ancient lake. There, the rover will complete its mission of looking for mineral deposits that can verify the past existence of water, and searching for clues that may indicate evidence of past life.
To the casual observer, this scenario may sound like the beginning of a good science fiction movie. However, as every space buff knows, this mission and others like it have already become a reality with the success of the Mars Rovers, such as Spirit and Opportunity. These rovers have far exceeded their mission goals, and NASA scientists continue to receive valuable data from the surface of Mars that may someday provide us with the necessary knowledge to send humans to the Red Planet.
With Space Day fast approaching, teachers can use the inherent fascination kids have with aerospace to get them excited about science and engineering. Space Day is an educational initiative that takes place on the first Friday in May, and its goal is to get kids involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities by nurturing their interest in spaceflight.
Aerospace is a topic that provides teachers with many real-world activities, and a simple one that requires little teacher preparation involves asking students to become NASA engineers for the day. I like to show a video clip of a Mars Rover Animation depicting the launch, atmospheric entry, and surface exploration of one of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers in order to give students some necessary background knowledge. Kids love the fact that engineers used airbags to protect the rovers from impact, especially since it seems like something they might come up with themselves.
Once they’ve seen the clip, I provide teams of students with a challenge: design a device using only given materials that will protect an egg from breaking when dropped from the top of the playground slide. Depending on the age and ability of your students, you can offer materials that provide differentiated degrees of difficulty. While doing this activity with kindergarteners last week, I gave them paper towels, plastic cups, bubble wrap, tissues, tape, and string, which many of them used to create a device with a parachute! For older children, I usually skip the bubble wrap (which makes the challenge too easy), and add eclectic items such as craft sticks, straws, and/or typing paper. It’s amazing to see the various ideas that actually work. For assessment purposes, students can draw sketches of their designs and complete a written analysis of the success or failure of their device. For other great Space Day activities, try the following lesson ideas.
Space Day Activities:
Students learn about the Mars Global Surveyor, the Mars Pathfinder, and the rover, Sojourner. They also make a model of a spacecraft using edible items.
In this lesson students learn about the effect microgravity has on astronauts. The effect, called puffy head or bird legs syndrome, is discussed by students. They do experiments find out how the fluid in their bodies is redistributed when parts of their body are elevated or upside down. They find out what it would be like on a mission to space.
This lesson has students make paper rockets, and do experiments with them. They measure how far their rocket travels, and make a graph showing their results.