When we look at the night sky, we see stars and the nearby planets of our own solar system. Many of those stars are actually distant galaxies and glowing clouds of dust and gases called nebulae. The universe is an immense space with distances measured in light years. The more we learn about the universe beyond our solar system, the more we realize we do not know. Students are introduced to the basic known facts about the universe, and how engineers help us explore the many mysteries of space.
Students acquire a basic understanding of the science and engineering of space travel as well as a brief history of space exploration. They learn about the scientists and engineers who made space travel possible and briefly examine some famous space missions. Finally, they learn the basics of rocket science (Newton's third law of motion), the main components of rockets and the U.S. space shuttle, and how engineers are involved in creating and launching spacecraft.
While building and testing model rockets fueled by antacid tablets, students are introduced to the basic physics concepts on how rockets work. Students revise and improve their initial designs. Note: This activity is similar to the elementary-level film canister rockets activity, but adapted for middle school students.
In this lesson, students learn about the physical properties of the Moon. They compare these to the properties of the Earth to determine how life would be different for astronauts living on the Moon. Using their understanding of these differences, they are asked to think about what types of products engineers would need to design for us to live comfortably on the Moon.
Students explore Mercury and Venus, the first and second planets nearest the Sun. They learn about the planets' characteristics, including their differences from Earth. Students also learn how engineers are involved in the study of planets by designing equipment and spacecraft to go where it is too dangerous for humans.
Students learn about the Earth's only natural satellite, the Moon. They discuss the Moon's surface features and human exploration. They also learn about how engineers develop technologies to study and explore the Moon, which also helps us learn more about the Earth.
Students are introduced to the futuristic concept of the moon as a place people can inhabit. They brainstorm what people would need to live on the moon and then design a fantastic Moon colony and decide how to power it. Students use the engineering design process, which includes researching various types of energy sources and evaluating which would be best for their moon colonies.
Students explore the outermost planets of our solar system: Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. They also learn about characteristics of Pluto and its interactions with Neptune. Students learn a little about the history of space travel as well as the different technologies that engineers develop to make space travel and scientific discovery possible.
By making and testing simple balloon rockets, students acquire a basic understanding of Newton's third law of motion as it applies to rockets. Using balloons, string, straws and tape, they see how rockets are propelled by expelling gases, and test their rockets in horizontal and incline conditions. They also learn about the many types of engineers who design rockets and spacecraft.
In this lesson, students are introduced to the historical motivation for space exploration. They learn about the International Space Station as an example of recent space travel innovation and are introduced to new and futuristic ideas that space engineers are currently working on to propel space research far into the future!