Robert W. Mellette
This curriculum unit is designed to use the Space Shuttle as a “vehicle” to teach middle school children basic concepts in science. The introduction of scientific concepts follows the logical progression of a typical Shuttle mission from lift-off to landing.
Following the above format, this curriculum begins with a brief overview of America’s Space Transportation System. All rockets rely on either solid or liquid fuels to generate the necessary thrust to achieve earth orbit. The Shuttle is unusual in that it uses both solid and liquid fuels for propulsion at lift-off. This arrangement makes it instructive to discuss with students the history of rocket propulsion systems as they progressed from the black powder of Chinese “fireworks” to the gigantic liquid fueled rockets in use today.
The typical Shuttle mission lasts seven days. Of this time period, only about ten minutes is required to achieve orbit, approximately thirty minutes is needed to de-orbit and execute a landing. The majority of the mission time is spend on-orbit.
While on-orbit the Shuttle provides a work platform like no place on earth. The experiments carried out to date, suggest enormous potential for scientific and applications research. The absence of gravity, the vibrationless platform and the hard vacuum of space maes possible the manufacture of ceramic, optical, electronic, metallurgical and pharmaceutical products of a quality and purity that simply cannot be achieved on earth.
The orbiter’ s cavernous cargo bay area permits the transportation of large payloads both into and back from earth orbit. This unique capability allows the Shuttle to deploy large satellite systems directly into space. Equally important, the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) or robotic arm has proved extremely useful in capturing and retrieving malfunctioning satellites. In the near future, the Shuttle will be used to bring up the huge Rubble telescope and the component parts of the Space Station. The Rubble telescope, orbiting outside the obscuring effects of the earth’s atmosphere will allow us to see to the very edge of our universe. This new tool will bring about changes in astronomy as revolutionary as those first discovered by Galileo, when he first used a telescope to peer into the night sky.
The Space Station will provide a permanently manned platform to look not only outwards to the stars but also downwards on our home. One unexpected result of space exploration has been our visual discovery of the earth. Philosophically, the space experience has expanded our awareness to new dimensions. Michael Collins, in his book,
Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey, wrote that “on
the way the moon we discovered the Earth”. The wider perspective from space, has practical as well as philosophical value. Meteorologists are now able to observe global weather patterns, conservationists monitor earth’s resources worldwide. Furthermore, advancements made in space technology result in spin-offs that benefit us on earth. Finally, along with these tangible benefits, many intangible ancillary benefits result such as the impetus given education, the fostering of national pride and the enhancement of cooperation among nations.
In space the basic needs for survival, so often taken for granted on earth, are indeed a matter of life and death. Breathable air, potable water and nutritious food, shelter from the vacuum and radiation of space, suitable clothing, clear communications with ground control and management of waste are all basic requirements for life.
The primary purpose of this unit is to focus student attention on the micro-environment of the Space Shuttle with its attendant systems of life support, and to then lead students to perceive the wider view of how the planet Earth can be viewed as a space ship with a “crew” that must face and solve the very same problems.
This unit is designed to cover a period of approximately four weeks. Activities suggested may be carried out in a variety of ways. Individual and group work, class discussions, “brainstorming”; and gathering data or information as the result of experimentation and through teacher led discussion.