Beyond Planet Earth

NASA, Kennedy Space Station, Florida

3,2,1 lift off!  A significant component of the new science curriculum engages students interests in space. I often found students fascinated by this topic – it inspires some imagination and philosophical questioning. What really is out there? Just how big is our universe?

New Zealand has a number of planetariums and tours that are run throughout the country. Recently I have visited the Otago Museum to check out the planetarium. A series of three different screenings are shown throughout the day, from observing the night’s constellations, through to the origins of the universe and Maori legends. I enjoyed them all.

What I have found of teaching interest lately is the aerospace studies subject offered in a number of secondary schools in Queensland, Australia. Aerospace studies, is catered for students who are seeking a foundation in the aviation and aerospace industry. Key topics include aeronautics and astronautics, aviation operations, safety management systems and the business of aviation and aerospace. Modules are designed to further students’ education, training and employment opportunities in this field. With my own personal interests in flying and having worked in aviation for seven years, I was particularly enthusiastic to discover this subject on offer to students.


I’ve always been fascinated to explore beyond planet earth. Perhaps, watching documentaries about astronauts sparked such an interest. A visit to NASA in Houston further fuelled that inspiration last year. Well, at the very least, I got to touch a moon rock! Visiting Johnson Space Centre at Houston was fascinating and immensely informative. Some people told me they only needed two hours to visit – I needed two days.

I have been oblivious to space travel accomplishments over the past few decades. Six space shuttles have been built and numerous missions completed, from Mars to Gemini to the Apollo Missions. There are nearly 2500 moon rocks at the Johnson Space Centre. The moon rocks are whitish-grey in colour, as they have not been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere. The basaltic composition of the moon rocks is incredibly similar to that of Iceland and Hawaii’s lava flows. Predominant metals found on the moon were aluminium, iron, magnesium, titanium and calcium.

NASA, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The international space station has further paved the way for space travel and research. It orbits quickly, at 17,500 miles per hour, 250 miles above the earth’s surface. Astronauts commonly stay for six months at a time, heavily involved in their area of research. What was of interest to me was their existence in space. It’s an extreme environment to exist in, and thanks to innovative engineering and technology, it’s a dream come true for astronauts. But it is not all easy. With no air pressure, oxygen and extreme temperatures and radiation it’s not for the faint hearted. With no gravity, eyes and ears cannot decipher movement and orientation of the body, which can cause motion sickness, headaches and vomiting.

Food is a special challenge, for there are no refrigerators in space. Dry food is common along with a lot of powdered food. Another craft is responsible for the regular delivery of food and removal of wastes. Muscle weakness is common and bones become weaker. Astronauts often feel considerably weaker when arriving back to Earth. The astronauts are expected to exercise for two hours per day due to the lack of gravity. If an orbit takes 90 minutes – that is one fast bike ride around the earth. It’s an ongoing mission!

Six months at least of space travel is required to reach Mars, an ambition NASA hopes to achieve by 2030, or 2035 at the latest. Water was once thought to have been present, due to the geomorphological features present on Mar’s surface. The fascination if life has and can exist on Mars is the driving force behind NASA’s pursuit to get there. Now that is bold ambitions.

2 thoughts on “Beyond Planet Earth

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  1. Wow! this article renewed my interest in space and space exploration which has always been a fascinating topic for me.
    we have found out so many interesting facts about our universe, and yet there’s so much to discover! I’m sure many of us have looked at the night sky and wondered… how far away are those bright lights in the sky? are they stars, planets or maybe entire galaxies? how far has that light traveled in order to reach us? are we looking at the past?, what is really going on out there right now?
    An interesting fact is that our universe is not static, it is actually expanding, growing bigger and bigger all the time.
    But, how far out there are we able to see? where is the edge of a universe that is in constant expansion? actually, there is no edge, but there’s a limit to our line of sight, called the hubble sphere, and that is the limit of the observable universe. It is about 93 billion light years across,
    that is a radius of about 46 billion light years. Even if inter-galactic travel was possible, and we were able to travel at the speed of light, we wouldn’t be able to travel what is called the ‘proper distance’, because the universe would have expanded already by the time we got there.
    Scientists and astrophysicists discovered this because the light from distant galaxies appeared red-shifted due to an increase in the wavelength, cause by the expansion of the universe.
    Another interesting fact is that thanks to the discovery of cosmic background radiation, we have been able to confirm the big bang theory.
    One question that I pose to other readers, and that has puzzled me for a long time is: if the universe is only 13 billion years old, how can it be 93 billion light years across?
    Perhaps someone can shed some light into that?

    PS: Thanks Rebecca for an amazing article.


    1. What an informative comment, you certainly have an immense interest in this topic. It’s certainly hard to comprehend the distance of our universe, almost impossible. But certainly great thinking questions, conceptualising is a challenge to begin with!!! Thank you for your comment


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