Recently, I was asked to provide a video interview as part of a Girl Scouts Gold Award. How cool is that! The project is focusing on female aerospace engineers. Although, I’m not an aerospace engineer, I am a female scientist. While these are two very different fields, many females in science have had similar experiences, which is why I was interviewed.
Participating in this project got me thinking… I was at NASA when they first announced their plans to return to the Moon and continue on to Mars. At the time, I was asked a lot of questions: Why are we going back to the Moon? Why do we want to go to Mars? How will we get there? Why are we talking about going to both the Moon and Mars?
For today’s activity, you and your kiddos are going to work together to figure out how to answer these questions. This is a brainstorming activity. Learning how to think can be one of the most important lessons in life. When posed with a new question or problem, scientists and engineers aren’t expected to have all the answers. Their job is to analyze what they know, what they don’t know, and figure out a path forward.
How to Start: Have your kiddos write down their questions about NASA’s return to the Moon and travel to Mars. If they need help, you can jot down their questions as they dictate. Be warned, once they get started you will probably have to write fast to keep up! Keep them focused on the real world, we’re not working on a science fiction story (that’s a whole different blog post).
What to do next: Be a scientist! Believe it or not, this is how most scientific investigations begin. You are posed with a question, you figure out what you do and don’t know, and then you put together a plan to try to find the answers. Let your kiddos guide their own exploration. This is an exercise in brainstorming, thinking outside the box, and applying knowledge. It is also an exercise in building confidence. The goal of this activity is to figure out what you don’t know, not to find a specific answer.
What we found: While my kiddos did ask some expected questions like: How much fuel will it take? and Will we travel straight to Mars, or go to the Moon first? I was totally surprised by others. Why does the moon have crevices? How were the Moon and Mars created? What do they look like in real life? Are there volcanoes on Mars? Questions like these are actually right on target! In order to travel to, and safely explore these new worlds, we need to understand how they are similar to, and different from Earth.
Expand it: How can you bring in other content areas?
Space travel requires skills and knowledge in all areas of STEAM, which is why every mission requires many different experts working together. Below are just a few of these areas.
- Science: What do you need to know about the Moon and Mars in order to travel to, land, and survive?
- Technology: What technology did we have when we first landed on the Moon? What has changed since then?
- Engineering: What is aeronautics? How is it different from astronautics?
- Arts: Why does NASA’s JPL have an art studio?
- Math: Who was Katherine Johnson and why was her work so important?
- NASA Artemis resources for kids: https://www.nasa.gov/joinartemis
- For added fun, check out the section titled “Design, Compete or Participate”.
- SpaceX Human Spaceflight: https://www.spacex.com/human-spaceflight/
- NASA Kid on the Moon: https://open.nasa.gov/innovation-space/kid-moon/
- Aerospace Engineering: https://study.com/academy/lesson/aerospace-engineering-lesson-for-kids.html
- The Studio at JPL: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/thestudio/
- Who was Katherine Johnson: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/who-was-katherine-johnson-k4