Lunar and Planetary Institute






Space Stations - Living and Working in Space
EXPLORE! Health in Space

Space Stations - Living and Working in Space

Overview

The children will visit five Space Stations to learn about how space affects the human body — and why.

Beans in Space: An Experiment in Microgravity and Muscle Atrophy – children ages 8–13 perform 20 arm curls with cans that simulate the weight of beans on Earth and the weight of the same number of beans on the Moon and in space. They explore what happens to muscles in space that do not have to fight the force of gravity.

Follow the Bouncing Ball – children ages 8–13 predict whether a ball on Earth or a ball  on the Moon bounces higher when dropped (or thrown at the floor) and why. They simulate the experiment by dropping high and regular bounce balls from their shoulder height.

Measure Up! – children ages 8–13 work in pairs to measure each other's ankles with lengths of string before and after lying on their backs with their feet in the air for 1 minute. This simulatesthe microgravity of space, where everything — including body fluids — floats!

Bones of Contention – children ages 8–13 make models representing bones on Earth and bones that have been in space. They discover what happens to bones without proper exercise and nutrition!

Sponge Spool Spine – Children ages 8–13 simulate what happens to a human spine in space by making Sponge Spool Spine (alternating sponge pieces and spools threaded on a pipe cleaner). This represents a human spine on Earth, with the discs (sponges) pressed between the spinal vertebrae (the wooden spools). The children measure the spine length, dip it in a glass of water (simulating microgravity), and then re-measure the spine. They will find it has expanded, just like in space!

The activities in this module can be done in many different ways.
They can be facilitator-lead and undertaken sequentially by the entire audience, or they can be set up as stations that are visited by small groups or individuals.

If stations are set up, it is recommended that an adult or older child is present at each station to serve as a host and to prompt the children's thinking. Station hosts may also demonstrate and/or assist younger children in completing the activity. Each activity has background information for the facilitator.

  • For stations, locate five areas that are accessible by groups of 3 to 6 children.
  • Label each station with a banner or poster and place the appropriate materials and one or two Children's Guides at each station.
  • Divide the children into teams of 3 to 6; have them circulate from station to station.
  • Provide each child with a "Spaceport" (a space passport!) and remind them to annotate their passport for each station visited.

As the children finish the stations invite them back to a common area where they can play Jumping to Conclusions, a card game that revisits several of the concepts presented at the stations.

A Little Background for the Facilitator

Gravity is the attraction between two masses, such as between the Earth and Moon, or between the Earth and you. The farther away from the mass you are, the less it pulls on you. Many people think there is no gravity once you get far away from Earth. But Earth's gravity field extends beyond the atmosphere, and beyond the Space Station and beyond satellites and even beyond the Moon. In fact, Earth's pull is only 1/10th smaller on the Space Station than it is on Earth's surface.

If Earth's gravity still "pulls" on the Space Station, why don't people and things fall toward Earth? Why do they float? The Space Station — and everything in it — is constantly falling toward Earth, but it is also moving forward very fast — 17,500 miles per hour. This combination keeps the Space Station in orbit around Earth. It is in constant "free fall." Everything on the Space Station is falling together — the astronauts, their equipment, pencils, and clipboards — even the Space Station itself. Because they are all falling together at the same rate, they appear to float relative to each other.

Note that any large body — like the Earth or Moon or Mars — has its own gravitational field — things near them are attracted to them — things "fall" to their surfaces. The amount of attraction they exert on other bodies depends, in part, on their mass. Of the three, Earth has the greatest mass and exerts the greatest pull. Mars has about 1/3rd the gravitational attraction as Earth, and the Moon, a much smaller body, has about 1/6th the attraction as Earth.

Last updated
October 9, 2009


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