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.
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.