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Blast Off! Space Exploration and Literacy

By Suzanne Slade
 | Mar 05, 2019

computer-called-katherineWith the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, many students will be curious about the brave astronauts who visited the moon and more recent space explorations. To help feed your students’ curiosity about space and inspire STEM reading and writing, here are several free NASA resources along with suggested activities. Select one activity, or combine several to create an in-depth unit on this timely, high-interest topic.

Apollo moon missions

The Apollo missions landed 12 astronauts on the moon. These explorers spent approximately 80 hours studying the moon and made many fascinating discoveries. 

Activity 1: In Their Own Words

Have you ever wondered what the astronauts talked about while they were soaring through space or walking on the moon for the first time? Fortunately, most of their conversations are available on the Apollo Flight Journal and Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

  • Read: Visit the Apollo 11 Surface Journal (timestamp: 109:23:38 to 109:24:48), read the famous sentence Neil Armstrong said when he took his first step on the moon, and read how he described the surface of the moon to eager listeners back on Earth.
  • Write: How do you think Neil Armstrong might have felt when he took that first step off the lunar module onto the mysterious surface of the moon? Scared? Proud? Nervous? Brave? Tired? How would you feel if you were the first person to explore a place where no one had ever been before? What thoughts would go through your mind?

Activity 2: Discoveries on the Moon

  • Choose one of the discoveries made by the Apollo missions from the Air and Space Museum’s list of “Top Ten” Apollo discoveries.
  • In your own words, write a short summary of the discovery and why it’s important.

Book connections:

  • Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon (Peachtree)
  • Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon (Charlesbridge)
  • A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon (Little, Brown)

Exploring astronauts

Students are fascinated by brave space explorers. Becoming an astronaut requires a lot of education, training, and hard work.

Activity 3: Astronaut Project

  • Invite students to research various astronauts using books and/or reliable internet websites (see NASA video resource below), or provide the class with a collection of level-appropriate books on various astronauts.
    • Modification option: For younger grades, provide students with a short list of four or five astronauts to read about.
  • Ask students to select an astronaut they admire or want to learn more about.
  • Invite students to write a nonfiction narrative which shares the childhood experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of his or her astronaut.
    • Modification option: Invite students to display their astronaut research on a bulletin board or poster boards, or share projects through short oral presentations.
    • Share a few presentations each day of a week as part of a “Space Week” celebration.

NASA video resource: Hear an astronaut describe his or her career journey in NASA’s astronaut video interviews (3–4 minutes long). Below are a few great interviews to inspire students:

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a large spacecraft where astronauts live and study space. Constantly circling Earth, the ISS weighs approximately one million pounds and is the size of a football field. Since it first opened in 2000, more than 200 astronauts have lived on the International Space Station.

Activity 4: Life on the Space Station

  • Watch a live transmission of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station via NASA TV, including “NASA TV Programming,” which is generally livestreamed video of the astronauts, and “Earth Views,” which is a live view of Earth from the ISS.
  • Find out who’s currently living on the Space Station by going to NASA Kids’ Club and following the “Find Out Who Is on the Space Station” link.
  • Write a paper about a few tasks that the astronauts living on the Space Station perform. Or, select one of the astronauts living on the ISS and write a summary of how he or she became an astronaut and what his or her role is on the ISS.
  • Project option: Find out when the ISS will be passing over your town and plan a special outing where your class can watch the Space Station soar over your school. Go to the Spot the Station website, input your location, and it will provide “ISS sighting” times (and an approximate location to help you find it) for the next couple of weeks. You can also receive alerts of future ISS sighting times and dates.

Story Time from Space

Story Time from Space features videos of astronauts reading books aloud from the International Space Station. This is a unique, out-of-this-world reading experience.

Activity 5: Story Time Book Summary

  • Listen to a book read by an astronaut, then invite students to write a short summary of the book they just heard.
  • Project option 1: Students may listen to one story and write a report about the same book, or they may listen to the story of their choice outside of class and write a book summary of teacher-specified length.
  • Project option 2: Students may record their observations of the astronaut while reading. Why didn’t the astronaut sit in a chair? What types of equipment did you see in the ISS? Did you see any clues that there is little gravity in the ISS? What was your favorite part of the story? The report may also include an illustration of the astronaut reading the book from space.

More space-themed resources

  • Challenger Centers are great places for students to participate in hands-on activities and explore. These not-for-profit learning centers are located in 27 states and four countries. Their “Center Missions” allow middle school students to experience “space-themed simulation-based experiences” led by trained flight directors.
  • NASA Kids’ Club is a NASA-sponsored website with exciting activities for students, such as test driving a rover on Mars, as well as other games and craft ideas.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, she often writes about science and space topics. Some her recent titles include Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Astronaut Annie (will be read by an astronaut on the Space Station for Story Time From Space), The Inventor’s Secret, and Dangerous Jane. Find free Teacher’s Guides for these books at www.suzanneslade.com. Find her on Twitter at @AuthorSSlade.

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