Jul 18 11

Space shuttle program inspires new education website



NASA’s space shuttle program is coming to a close this week as the Atlantis heads back to Earth Wednesday. A new website highlights the history of the shuttle missions and serves as an education tool for both teachers and students.

The first space shuttle flew in 1981. Five shuttles have flown: Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Endeavour and Atlantis.


The new NASA education website: Space Shuttle—A Mighty Machine traces the history of these shuttle missions. Users also learn about educators who became astronauts.


“Basically at this website, you can do many different things. You can learn about the history of the shuttle program and how it has impacted our world and inspired our students and educators. You can learn about the different missions.


“There are 135 total, including this current mission STS-135. You can also learn about different education activities that have taken place such as the Engineering Design Challenge,” said Mathew Keil, Lead Education Specialist in the Teaching From Space office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.


The Engineering Design Challenge began four years ago on a shuttle mission with astronaut Barbara Morgan. The activity encourages students in grades K-12 to design chambers that will allow them to grow basil seeds or plants in extreme or microgravity environments like the Moon or Mars.


Keil said the site is a resource for both in and outside the classroom.


“The shuttle website will highlight that activity and then there is a link available that will take you to all of the resources needed. There are lesson plans for teachers, videos for students and teachers to use and a link to directly order the seeds that will be shipped directly to the school, museum or science center,” said Keil.


The website is a collaboration between NASA’s Teaching From Space Office and the space agency’s Educational Technologies Services Office.


Along with the education activities, the site also highlights the technical feats of the shuttle program.


Every day, in a variety of ways, American’s lives are touched by space technology. Since 1976, there have been more than 1500 documented NASA technologies that have benefited U.S. industry or improved the quality of lives and created jobs.


The website highlights over 100 spin-offs that came from the shuttle program.


“Some of the ones that are highlighted on the website include the artificial heart and you may say how did the artificial heart come out of the space shuttle program? Well, the technology that was used in the space shuttle fuel pumps led to the development of a miniaturized ventricular assist pump by NASA and then that was carried over by a famous heart surgeon. That is one end of the spectrum. You can go to automotive insulation. A lot of the materials from the space shuttle thermal protection systems are on NASCAR racing cars,” said Keil.


A goal for the website is getting students in grades K-12 interested in STEM or science, technology, engineering and math careers.


Keil is a former high school engineering teacher. He said although the shuttle program is ending, it’s important to recognize how it has laid groundwork for future space exploration.


“Currently, NASA is working to send humans to explore the solar system and working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars.  NASA plans to build a multi-purpose crew vehicle and a lot of this was based on the design of from the Orion capsule that was part of the constellation program so it is exciting and with those of us with educational backgrounds there will be so many teachable moments in this,” said Keil.


New activities and information from the final mission of shuttle Atlantis will soon be added to the website. Keil said Space Shuttle—A Mighty Machine will stay up well beyond the final flight.


For more information about the Space Shuttle—A Mighty Machine website click here.

Tags: NASA, New website

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