A New Era in Space Travel

(Larry Fogel/The Washington Post)
The space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union drove early decisions to pursue going beyond the boundaries of space. As NASA celebrates its 60th anniversary and the 50th year since U.S. astronauts landed on the moon, the U.S. faces new decisions about the future of space exploration. Will it be the Mars Era?
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it is entering what Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. has called the Mars Era. This month’s Post NIE curriculum guide looks at the beginnings of NASA, its early programs, its latest discoveries and its possibilities for the future.


Most agree that NASA should remain a viable U.S. agency. In October 1958 when it was established it “was built on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and other government organizations as the locus of U.S. civil aerospace research and development." This was two months after President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation to establish it, beginning the space race with the Soviet Union. Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space, was its first program.


The people who have worked on the first manned flights beyond Earth’s boundaries, the moon landing, the Hubble telescope, New Horizons and other recent space explorations are well educated, dedicated to working and reworking designs and materials, concerned about safety and committed to expanding our knowledge of space. They are a gamut of career paths, people and programs.


What now?


Not everyone agrees on the direction NASA should explore next and with whom. The PRO CON activities in this guide begin with examples of guest commentary, letters to the editor and the responses received from readers. Use these to stimulate discussion, debate and student letters.


NOTE to D.C. area teachers and visitors

Residents and visitors who have made the National Air and Space Museum one of the most visited museums in the world will continue to have access to the museum that began a seven-year renovation in Dec. 2018, but may be disappointed to learn that favorite exhibits and galleries are closed. The redesigned Destination Moon exhibit will reopen in 2022.



January 2019

Space Exploration Today
Resource Graphic 

Talk About Science From Asteroids to Voyager and SpaceX
Astronomy, Geology, Journalism, Physics, Science, U.S. Government

Teachers might begin by asking students what science or science-related stories are in the news. What science-related stories made the headlines in the past year? How many of these are related to the environment, climate change or animal life? How many are related to space?


Teachers might encourage a web search of top science stories of the year or use “science” as a search term of the newspaper’s archives.


Students will find that beginning in 2018 more science-related stories reported on activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and space exploration.


Use the e-Replica search feature or online archives of The Washington Post to read Sarah Kaplan’s “The biggest science stories of 2018: From the edge of the solar system to crises on Earth.” Discuss the stories she highlights and what they indicate about possible follow-up stories in 2019.


Teachers might also include the slideshow that includes images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, spacecraft missions, International Space Station and earth-bound photographers. The captions are very informative. It is found at the end of the article.


Meet Engineers, Project Scientists and Others
Career Education, Engineering, Journalism, Science

Astronauts are the public face of NASA and its manned missions. Some astronauts have schools and public buildings named after them. Some programs for students interested in astronomy, physics and robotics have been established by astronauts. Name astronauts and what you know about them.


In the 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon the crew members of NASA’s Apollo missions tell of their experiences in their own words. “To Space and Back” activity begins with questions about the surviving astronauts who are featured in the documentary. Because of the length of the documentary teachers may wish to divide it into three sections or assign it as homework.


 Additional reading and discussion could include Apollo Missions and other projects that presented many problems to solve. Some of these have created new jobs, new consumer products, advanced technology and methodologies. These include:
Spacesuits and their preservation;
Medicine and health; and


Read About Women in Space
Astronomy, Career Education, Engineering, Physics, Science

The KidsPost article “Journey to Mars: Meet Molly White” provides a short profile of an engineer working on spacecraft Orion. Teachers should note to students the date the article was first published and the follow-up date in the introduction. What does this indicate about the timeline of many NASA projects? About the time to test, analyze and test again — and for what goals? KidsPost also profiled Jessica Meir.


Obituaries are also the source of insights into careers, decisions and contributions to society. Read about Nancy Grace Roman, 93, in “Astronomer was celebrated as the ‘mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.’” What do we learn about attitudes toward women in science careers? About paths Roman took before her career at NASA.


The book and movie Hidden Figures introduced us to the female “human computers” who worked under the prejudices of the time and showed with their intellect they were needed in the missions of John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Alan Shepard. For more background on women working as “human computers” before space exploration read Popular Mechanics’ “The True Story of ‘Hidden Figures’ and the Women Who Crunched the Numbers.”  


Select an Astronaut to Honor
Astronomy, Career Education, Physics, Science

Teachers could introduce NASA, the Apollo missions and astronauts with “Apollo 8: NASA’s first moonshot was a bold and terrifying improvisation.” This could be followed with viewing In the Shadow of the Moon.

For recent NASA projections into the future, read and discuss KidsPost’s “A new era in spaceflight: Back to the moon on the way to Mars.” Pair this with the informational graphic “The Journey to Space” to discuss the technological developments that each mission required.


In 2017, Lego released a set of figurines honoring four pioneering women of NASA: Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel in space; Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; Margaret Hamilton, a computer programmer who created the software necessary for the Apollo missions; and Dr. Nancy Grace Roman. Discuss the careers of these women. What attitudes did they have to confront to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities?
• Who would your students honor in a second set of pioneering women?
• Who would make their top five pioneering men in space?


Picture Another World
Art, Astronomy, Science, Visual Arts

Astronaut Bill Anders took the Earth-rise photograph on the Apollo 8 mission. Read and discuss “Earthrise: The stunning photo that changed how we see our planet.”


Alan Bean, astronaut and artist, was the “fourth man to set foot on the moon.” He was also an artist. Share with students the work of Bean, read his comments and discuss how and what he communicates in his artwork. 

Discussion might include:
• What special “seal” does Bean (1932-2018) add to many of his works?
• In what ways does his personal experience, as well as artistic skills, bring a different dimension to his art?
• Select one of Bean’s works to review. How and what does he communicate to viewers?


KidsPost asked students to illustrate “what ‘America’s Return to Space’ looks like.” Give students “What Color? What Shape? What Marvels!” Projects for students to express their creative side are suggested.

Space Exploration for Kids
Resource Graphic 

View and Review a Space Movie
Art, English, Media, Visual Arts

The Post’s Christian Davenport reported that in 2017 “NASA collaborated on 143 documentary projects, 41 television programs and 25 feature films with various levels of participation, from providing footage to granting access to NASA facilities.” Teachers could begin by asking students to brainstorm movies that are set in space or have interaction with creatures from other planets as a premise. The movies might include these classics. What makes these movies appealing?
• Alien (1979)

• 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick’s movie based on Arthur C. Clarke’s book

Apollo 13 (1995)

• E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

First Man (Neil Armstrong story)

• WALL-E (2008)

The Martian (2015)

• Star Wars


After discussing the movies that students suggest, read “Sorry, your favorite ‘space’ movie is not actually a space movie.” What is the perspective that Elahe Izadi brings to viewing these movies?


Cover the basics of movie (or book) review writing. Ask students to write a movie review or commentary about one or more space movies. Teachers should ask students to include technology that is shown and technology used to create the movie, special effects and camera techniques, themes and the impact of the music used in the movie.


Design a Mission Patch
Art, Astronomy, Science, Visual Arts

Share “NASA crews show their creativity in long history of mission patches” with students. This KidsPost article is well illustrated with patches and information about the images. Also link to the video to see how astronauts design their mission patches to communicate information about their shuttle mission.


Have students brainstorm which future space mission they find the most plausible or fascinating. Then design a space patch to reflect the mission.


Locate Mythic Figures and Stars
Art, Astronomy, English, Science

Perseus battled to free the beautiful Andromeda. The hunter Orion fell for the Pleiades. Then Zeus turned Orion and the Pleiades into stars. Can students recite the full story of mythic heroes and locate someone from the story in the skies? The International Astronomical Union officially assigned 88 constellations in 1930. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy identified 48 constellations.
• Why are so many constellations named after mythic figures?
• Why are most of the first-named constellations found in the northern hemisphere?


After teachers discuss the names and shapes of constellations, see if students can identify any of them. Use NASA graphics of the night sky and see what the What’s Up column indicates about the current night sky.  Teachers should check with Tonight’s Sky to verify which might be easiest to find where you live.



Read About Space and Exploration

Design a STEM Toy
Art, Science

Read “Top STEM toys are hands-on fun,” a 2018 KidsPost article by Marylou Tousignant. The online article includes photographs of the top toys. Discuss what students know about them, whether they would appeal to them and types of toys that they have played with that are STEM-related.


Make a list of characteristics of a good toy for students in your age group.

• What concepts are being addressed?

• What skills are required to play the game or manipulate the toy?

• What is needed to play with the toy more than once?


Create groups to design a toy or game that is STEM-related. Teachers need to establish guidelines; for example: Will games that are variations of an established game be allowed? May students use existing Lego pieces (plus two of three of their design) to create a new kit?


Listen to the Music
Arts, Media, Music, Physics, Science

Teachers might consider the role that understanding of the planets and space influenced musical composition. Below are three suggested approaches.

• Between 1914 and 1916, Gustav Holst wrote “The Planets.” Op. 32. Each of the seven movements is named for a planet. Play portions of the suite to see if students can identify the planet as it was viewed at that time. Advanced music students might select a planet, using contemporary understanding of the planet to write a short piece.


• Where does John Williams, prolific and much-awarded composer of film scores, fit within the world of classical or orchestral composers? For one opinion read “As a classical music critic, I used to think the ‘Star Wars’ score was beneath me. I was wrong.” Discuss the ideas presented about how music is categorized and appreciated.


• Astrophysicist Brian May, better known as lead guitarist for the rock band Queen, debuted a song he wrote for the New Horizons successful exploration of Ultima Thule. “This is an anthem to human endeavor,” he said. See if students can locate “New Horizons” to hear and discuss his composition.


Consider Commercial and Ethical Conflicts
Business, Career Education, Ethics, Visual Arts

Since 2011 no human being has been launched into space from U.S. installations. At present three billionaires — Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeffrey P. Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) — and companies such as Boeing are heavily engaged in a return to transferring people to and from the International Space Station, developing space tourism and other ventures.


Teachers might begin with reading and discussing “Virgin Galactic craft crosses threshold of space.” Its news peg is the successful launch of Branson’s Virgin Galactic to more than 50 miles above Earth. As The Post’s Christian Davenport reported: “[T]he flight was the first launch of a spacecraft from U.S. soil with humans on board to reach the edge of space since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.”


Some of the questions to be answered include the following. Discuss with your students and read additional articles to provide background.

• What challenges has Richard Branson faced in reaching his space flight goals?

• What happens to our expectations when the private sector enters space travel and delivery functions?

• Not only are there spacecraft to be built, there is an infrastructure to be maintained. What work is needed to update and retain safety in the International Space Station?

• Who will supervise what private companies do?

• Who might regulate the price of a seat on a space flight?

• What is the role of NASA and how is it balanced with the pursuits of billionaires such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeffrey P. Bezos?


Additional reading and approaches include:

1. “The unsung astronauts

2. “Virgin Galactic’s quest for space: Richard Branson knows the agony of space flight. Now he’s set on triumph”

3. “The company astronaut

4. Read “Why NASA’s next rockets might say Budweiser on the side” by Christian Davenport. Discuss the commercial potential of advertising. Does this source of funding have any place in space exploration?

5. In the comments section of “The company astronaut,” coltakashi93 made four suggestions. Among them were this:

“Better than a billionaire space tourist paying multimillions for a personal space experience, we can commercialize space exploration by selling millions of cheap subscriptions to live and archived feed from manned spacecraft, along with the opportunity to have a question answered by an astronaut on that feed.  Exploring the moon and Mars could get a billion subscribers.”

• What do you think of this suggestion? Do you think people (especially those raised on free Panda and other cams) would subscribe to such a feed? 

• Brainstorm ideas for funding NASA programs, space exploration and science projects in weightless conditions.


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 


Branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe; deals with the position, size, motion, composition, energy, and evolution of celestial objects. Astronomers analyze not only visible light but also radio waves, x-rays, and other ranges of radiation that come from sources outside the Earth's atmosphere.


Bennu  A near-Earth asteroid, discovered on Sept. 11, 1999, and selected for the OSIRIS-Rex mission (see below). Subject of a 6-minute animated movie, Bennu’s Journey
Chang’e 4 

First spacecraft to land (Wednesday, January 3, 2019) on the far side of the moon, launched by the China National Space Administration. In 2003 China became the third country to put an astronaut in space.

Explorer-I  First U.S. earth satellite, launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 31, 1958
Hubble Space Telescope 

First major telescope to be sent into space; purpose to gather photographs of and data from the universe; has yielded significant astronomical observations



“NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. But InSight is more than a Mars mission — it is a terrestrial planet explorer that will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science — understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.”


Kuiper Belt Ring of debris that encircles the icy outer reaches of the solar system 
New Horizons  NASA spacecraft with a mission to explore beyond previous exploration; from Pluto (2015) to a space rock designated Ultima Thule in the Kuiper belt  
Orion Spacecraft will venture thousands of miles beyond the moon during Exploration Mission-1, its first mission atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket; enabling human exploration of the Moon and Mars

NASA spacecraft with the mission to explore the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft — the asteroid Bennu. “OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth,” according to NASA. Scheduled to return to Earth in 2023 with samples of its loose soil and rocky surface.


Parker Solar Probe  NASA mission to gather data and study the Sun, how it affects space near Earth, sampling the solar corona and solar win            

The dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move


Space Force

A separate military department proposed by the Trump administration; separate but equal to the Air Force, Navy and Army. According to a Dec. 2017 OMB report: “With the rapid pace of innovation in the space domain, it will become increasingly critical to respond quickly to changing threats and opportunities. …”


 Sputnik I World’s first artificial satellite, launched Oct. 4, 1957, was about the size of a beach ball and took 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on an elliptical path; considered the start of the space age and U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race
Ultima Thule

To ancient explorers: the most distant region was what lay past the northernmost edges of maps, beyond the known world. To NASA: target for its New Horizons spacecraft (Jan. 1, 2019)

Van Allen Belts

Belts of charged particles trapped in space by the earth’s magnetic field

ANSWERS. What Do You Know About the Space Age?
MULTIPLE CHOICE. 1. B; 2. D 3. C 4. C; 5. A
MATCHING. 1. E, 2. C, 3. G, 4. D, 5. A, 6. F, 7. B


ANSWERS. Explore e-Replica
Find the Answers. 1. Scientists on Earth cannot communicate using direct radio signal to the far side of the moon; 2. Using relay satellite transmissions; 3. The asteroid Bennu and also Earth and the moon. 4. Answers will vary based on reported information. 5. Initial reports indicated a malfunction of the optical and ultraviolet channels on the Wide Field Camera 3. Answers were vary based on the most recent reporting.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Washington, D.C.

Earth Science. The Universe. ES.2. Broad Concept: Galaxies are made of billions of stars and form most of the visible mass of the universe. As a basis for understanding this concept, students:

1.     Recognize that the universe contains many billions of galaxies, and each galaxy contains many billions of stars 
2.     Describe various instrumentation used to study deep space and the solar system (e.g., telescopes that record in various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible, infrared, and radio, refracting or reflecting telescopes, and spectrophotometer).

Earth Science. The Solar System. ES.3. Broad Concept: Our solar system is composed of a star, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and residual material left from the evolution of the solar system over time. The sun is one of billions of stars residing in one of billions of galaxies in a universe that has been changing and evolving over vast amounts of time. As a basis for understanding this concept, students:
1.     Describe the location of the solar system in an outer edge of the disc-shaped Milky Way galaxy, which spans 100,000 light-years.
2.     Compare and contrast the differences in size, temperature, and age of our sun and other stars.
3.     Understand and describe the nebular theory concerning the formation of solar systems, including the roles of planetesimals and protoplanets.
4.     Observe and describe the characteristics and motions of the various kinds of objects in our solar system, including planets, satellites, comets, and asteroids, and the influence of gravity and inertia on these motions.
5.     Explain how Kepler’s laws predict the orbits of the planets.


The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


Academic Content Standards may be found at https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attach...

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

U.S. History. Challenges of the Post War World (1946-1968)

 Analyze the causes, events and policies of the Cold War between 1946-1968 (5.4.1).

f. Analyze the competition and the consequences of the space and arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, including the impact of Sputnik (PS, PNW)


Government. Peoples of the Nation and World (Goal 2)

The student will evaluate the interdependent relationships of United States politics and government to world affairs.

2.1.2  The student will evaluate the effectiveness of international alliances and organizations from the perspective of the United States. [Other examples of alliances and organizations in which the United States participates may be used.]


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Physics. PH.3  The student will investigate and demonstrate an understanding of the nature of science, scientific reasoning, and logic. Key concepts include

c)     evaluation of evidence for scientific theories;

d) examination of how new discoveries result in modification of existing theories or establishment of new paradigms; and

d)    construction and defense of a scientific viewpoint.


Physics. PH.5  The student will investigate and understand the interrelationships among mass, distance, force, and time through mathematical and experimental processes. Key concepts include

a)     linear motion;

b)    uniform circular motion;

c)     projectile motion;

d)    Newton’s laws of motion;

e)     gravitation;

f)     planetary motion; and

g)     work, power, and energy.


Earth Science.  ES.13  The student will investigate and understand scientific concepts related to the origin and evolution of the universe. Key concepts include

a)     cosmology including the Big Bang theory; and

b)    the origin and evolution of stars, star systems, and galaxies.


U.S. History. The United States Since World War II

USII.9    The student will apply social science skills to understand the key domestic and international issues during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by

c)   analyzing how representative citizens have influenced America scientifically, culturally, academically, and economically; and

d)   evaluating and explaining American foreign policy, immigration, the global environment, and other emerging issues.


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

Key Ideas and Details:

Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2]


Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem. [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.7]


Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information. [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.8]



Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.