The Learning Lab

Kathy Malatesta on education, libraries and technology

NASA: Alive & Well in the Classroom

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To paraphrase our own Mark Twain, the reports of NASA’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While it is true that the curtain has come down on the shuttle program, NASA has many more planned missions and they want to involve our students.

The GRAIL (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory) Mission launched on September 10 carrying ‘twin probes‘ to examine the moon’s gravity. The Apollo astronauts covered the distance to the moon in three days; the GRAIL probes will take about three months. Once their orbits are established, they will begin their 82-day scientific phase. At this time, scientists will focus on determining the gravitational properties of the moon.

So where do the students come in? They can get involved right now. After all, what are NASA spacecraft without catchy names? Students from Kindergarten through high school are invited to name the twins and submit a short written explanation behind their choices. You may access the website and submission form here. They need to get their creative juices flowing, the deadline is November 11.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this mission – at least for educators and students – is the MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) program. The probes are also carrying cameras that students will be able to control. Imagine the excitement of actually capturing your own image of the far side of the moon! Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, prepared this short video explaining the program. What’s next? If you or your child is in middle school, ask your teacher to sign up (Bethel Middle School is registered!). Homeschool providers are invited to participate as well. Registration is open and the entry form is available here.

Here are some suggestions to further the discussion with your children:

  • Other missions were named Apollo, Gemini and Mercury. Where did those names originate? Can you think of names that would fit this mission?
  • Why do you think the GRAIL probes are going to take so much longer than the Apollo astronauts to get to the moon?
  • Why do you think NASA is looking at the moon’s gravity?
  • NASA GRAIL MoonKAM Resources

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