Make the Final Two Flights of the Space Shuttle a Teachable Moment in the Classroom and at Home

Final Rollout of Shuttle Endeavour to the Launch Pad



Background: The URL for this page is being disseminated to school districts across the U.S. It was originally disseminated to the students, teachers, administrators, families, and communities participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), a U.S. National STEM education initiative that provides up to 3,200 students across a community the ability to design and propose real experiments to fly in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final two flights of the Space Shuttle (STS-134 and STS-135), and then on the International Space Station. SSEP is about immersing and engaging students and their teachers in real science—on the high frontier—so that students are given the chance to be scientists—and experience science firsthand.

You are currently on a web page at the SSEP Community Network Hubsite—a web site dedicated to the activities and excitement across the 27 U.S.communities that are participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), and have in turn given 30,000 students the ability to participate. SSEP is undertaken by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in partnership with NanoRacks LLC, and is enabled through NanoRacks‘ Space Act Agreement with NASA as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

SSEP on STS-134: Through the first announcement of opportunity to U.S. school districts in June 2010, 16 communities joined the program, with students vying for experiment slots on the final flight of Endeavour, launching April 2011. Across the 16 communities 20,000 students in 53 schools were invited to participate (see Community Profiles and Local Partners: SSEP on STS-134 page). A total of 447 proposals for experiments were submitted from student teams, and a two-step Review Board selected 16 to fly—one for each community. See: Selected Experiments on STS-134 page, and read about the selected experiments passing formal NASA Flight Safety Review!

SSEP on STS-135: Through the second announcement of opportunity in January 2011, 11 communities joined the program, with students vying for experiment slots on the final flight of Atlantis, launching June 2011. Across the 11 communities 11,000 students in 48 schools were invited to participate (see Community Profiles and Local Partners: SSEP on STS-135 page). Student teams are now in the midst of experiment design and proposal writing, with proposals due to the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education by May 32, 2011 (see the STS-135 Critical Timeline).

To read more about the SSEP Community Network, visit this Hubsite’s Home Page. If you want to explore how students across YOUR community can be part of SSEP, with operations for experiments on the International Space Station beginning in Fall 2012, Contact Us.To read more about the SSEP—including full details on its objectives and how it is delivered—go the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program’s MAIN WEBSITE.


Original Post with Resources:

To: Students engaged in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, their Teachers, their Families, and their Communities

From: Jeff Goldstein, Center Director, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education

Mommy, do you remember long ago what it was like
when the Space Shuttle was still flying?

It will come to pass. Soon these storied vehicles that have been a testament to America’s technological prowess, and propelled dreams of generations heavenward, will be relegated to museum display. There, they will celebrate the past for generations to come. And in the not too distant future, in a hangar maybe at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, or Kennedy Space Center, or the California Science Center, your child will say “Mommy, do you remember long ago what it was like when the Space Shuttle was still flying?” And maybe, Mommy will say something like,”Why, yes, I do! Let me tell you about it! When I was your age, I was in this competition where students in my old school were given the chance to design real science experiments to fly aboard the Shuttle. My experiment didn’t end up getting selected, which made me feel kinda bad for a little while, but then I realized that the experience helped show me what science was really like! As a 5th-grader I was given the chance TO BE A REAL SCIENTIST! And then we all gathered around the winning team at our school as this Space Shuttle right here(!) carried our school experiment into space. Maybe, in some small way, that’s why I decided to be an engineer. Remember that biology mini-lab I helped build that I told you about? Well right now it’s heading to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon to look for life.”

Why ….. not?

Legacies endure though the experiences and knowledge passed from one generation to the next. It is why we have Mozart, da Vinci, Einstein, and Shakespeare. It is why we have art and music and science and technology.  We—as a species of explorers-must celebrate the past, embrace the book of knowledge bequeathed to us by past generations, and lift our children up so that they may go where none have gone before. It is the nature of our existence. It is an outgrowth of being born curious, and with the capacity for tools and technology.

As America’s Space Shuttle program now moves from the present … into history, let us remember that it paves the way for a new phase in the human exploration of space. Let us remember that it served our nation. Let us remember that it served our children. Let us remember the fallen.

For 30 years the Space Shuttle has been the symbol of America in space. Columbia made the first flight on April 12, 1981 with STS-1. Almost precisely 30 years later the program comes to an end with STS-134 and STS-135, the flights of Endeavour and Atlantis. In the intervening years we lost Challenger and Columbia, and 14 brave souls. In the intervening years, to name some notable accomplishments, the shuttle fleet launched the Hubble Space Telescope, Magellan to Venus, Galileo to Jupiter, Ulysses to observe the Sun, flew 29 Spacelab missions, conducted countless science experiments, and was the workhorse to construct the International Space Station.

In likely less than 3 months, no Shuttle will ever again return to the launch pad. We are indeed living through a moment in history, and it ought to be a teachable moment in the classroom and at home. Take some time this week, and through the rest of the school year, to read about the Shuttle program and its accomplishments. To help you follow along with the flights of Endeavour and Atlantis, and celebrate the Space Shuttle, we’ve provided the resources below.

Web Sites of Interest

Meet shuttle Endeavour’s six-man crew, Spaceflight Now, April 25, 2011
NASA STS-134 page
NASA Space Shuttle Era page
NASA Shuttle Launch Blog
NASA Shuttle Photogallery
NASA STS-135 page
NASA Latest Shuttle News page
NASA TV for Live Coverage

Live Coverage of STS-134, here at the SSEP Community Network Hubsite

We have pulled together, in one single stream of information, live coverage of Tweets from NASA Johnson Space Center and NASA Kennedy Space Center, Tweets from the STS-134 crew, Tweets from Student Voices of Mission Control (SVoMCs) across the SSEP participating communities—live coverage by students, and all posts to the SSEP Community Blogs. All entries are aggregated in chronological order.

Jump to: Live Coverage of SSEP on STS-134 page

Essays with Essential Questions for the Classroom and Home

I’ve also written a number of essays on Blog on the Universe and at Huffington Post that are relevant to where the Shuttle orbits the Earth, the physics of a shuttle launch, the cause of microgravity (weightlessness), and the history, legacy, and future of human spaceflight—often from a very personal vantage point. The essays are written to be used as lessons in the classroom, and to promote classroom discussion, and they embrace the notion that science education should be about conceptual understanding at an emotional level. The essays with links are listed below, along with essential questions and objectives.

The Business Trip 2009-05-19
Essential questions: How far is ‘Outer Space’? What does this imply for the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere?
Concepts: the locations of orbiting space shuttle and space station; speed of shuttle and station; orbiting spacecraft are in outer space, above Earth’s atmosphere
Objective: to recognize that orbiting spacecraft are closer to the surface of Earth than you are to places you’ve traveled by car; given these spacecraft are in “outer space”, they are above the atmosphere—which must be nothing but a slender veil of air surrounding the planet.
Math skills: relation: distance = speed x time
Special features: includes a classroom activity using the web to: research geographic locations that are the same distance as outer space; online tracking of the shuttle and the space station to see when you can see them flying overhead, and recognize that you’re seeing an object far above Earth’s atmosphere.

Weekly Challenge 4: You Want Me to Do What With a Bathroom Scale? 2009-06-29
Essential questionWhy are astronauts weightless in space?
Concepts: common knowledge regarding the characteristics of weightlessness; the force of gravity exists between any two objects; definition of weight
Objective: to address the deep misconception that weightlessness is due to a lack of gravity in space; to understand that astronauts APPEAR weightless because they are in a free-falling environment—the space shuttle
Math skills: none required
Optional math skills: relation: the Law of Universal Gravitation; calculating the weight of a person in orbit relative to their weight at sea level
Special features: a link to a powerful middle school lesson on weightlessness; Dr. Jeff’s full calculation of a person’s weight in orbit versus weight on the surface of Earth in a downloadable PDF.

Shuttle Atlantis in Orbit, Make it a Teachable Moment 2009-11-19
Essential question: When a space shuttle launches—how heavy, how fast, how far?
Concepts: the space shuttle is a massive vehicle in terms of both height and weight; on launch, the space shuttle undergoes a rapid increase in speed (acceleration); the shuttle is placed in orbit around the Earth just minutes after launch
Objective: to put the basic physics of a space shuttle launch concerning vehicle mass, speed, elapsed time, and altitude into easy to understand terms
Math skills: none required
Optional math skills: the relation (distance = speed x time) can be used to understand some of the quoted numbers
Special features: cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Yesterday’s Launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Brings Back Memories of Apollo 11 2009-06-19
Essential question: What was it like to live through the flight of Apollo 11—the most historic voyage in the history of the human race?
Concepts: history is not ancient, it is alive and well, and look—there goes another second of history right now; history if told well, can be both powerful and emotional; history can inspire; we sent humans to the surface of the Moon, and people alive today remember the achievement
Objective: to help students understand—through one who lived it—the most monumental achievement in the history of the human race
Math skills: none required
Special features: space exploration and science embedded in an interdisciplinary tapestry of the human condition; links to relevant essays by Dr. Jeff, and additional resources, allowing teachers and parents to continue the journey with their classes and children; cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

An Apollo 11 Personal Story 2009-07-16
Essential questionsWhat is it like to meet your hero? What is the nature of human exploration?

Commentary on Blue-Ribbon Panel Exploring NASA’s Strategic Options for Human Space Flight 2009-08-13
Essential question: What should be the goal of human space flight?
Special features: cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Shuttle Atlantis Home! Prompts Me to Look to America’s Future … and I’m Troubled 2009-11-27
Essential question: Is the end of the space shuttle era a symptom of a larger problem for America? Are we taking science and technology education seriously?
Special features: cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Shuttle Endeavour About to Blast Off on its Second to Last Mission, Make it a Teachable Moment 2010-2-06
Essential question: How will the next generation view the era of the space shuttle?
Special features: cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Other Very Relevant Essays On Exploration, Teaching, Science, and History

The Nature of Our ExistenceCelebrating what we know of Earth in a greater space—and that we can know it.
The Art of TeachingA thank you to teachers everywhere.
Scientists and Engineers as Heroes and Role Models: We need new heroes for the 21st century.
The National Air and Space Museum: A celebration of human dreams of flight in air and space.

I hope these resources can help you make these final two flights of the Space Shuttle a teachable moment for your students and children.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.