Exploration: Then and Now
Former astronaut Roger Crouch stands in front of a group of students and teachers

Former astronaut Roger Crouch talks with students at Toano Middle School about his experience in space. His presentation complemented the "Exploration: Then and Now" modules teachers have been using. Image Credit: Sean Smith

From sailing uncharted oceans to making voyages through the vastness of space, explorers have met the challenges of entering unknown territory for centuries.

As the 401st anniversary of the founding of America's first permanent English colony nears, NASA continues working with schools to connect 17th-century exploration to today's space exploration.

In honor of the 400th anniversary in 2007, NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., partnered with the Colonial National Historical Park near Williamsburg, Va., to develop educational modules. The lessons compare the establishment of the Jamestown settlement with NASA's plans to establish an outpost to live and work on the moon.

As a result, teachers nationwide have been using the modules in their classes. Former astronaut Roger Crouch visited sixth-grade students at two Virginia schools in April 2008 to help make the comparison between past and present exploration.

Social studies teachers at Toano Middle School in James City County, Va., and James Blair Middle School in Williamsburg, Va., have used the modules since last year.

"The students have been very positive in the interactions with activities," said Julie Bray, sixth-grade teacher at Toano Middle School. "They get curious and want to know more."

Crouch gave the students more. Not only did he share stories of his experience in space, but he also compared the difficulties explorers faced in the past to those they will face in the future.

"When the people got to Jamestown, they had all types of hardships like starvation and lack of fresh water," Crouch told students.

"Sometimes exploration involves hardships. But that didn't stop them from wanting to explore, wanting to learn new things and wanting to discover new worlds -- either here or in space."

Modern-day explorers also need essential components for survival like water, Crouch said. Ways to find or produce water will be critical for extended settlement on the moon to take place.

The challenges faced by both explorers of the 17th century and of space today are the focus of NASA's education modules, called "Exploration: Then and Now."

One module discusses the difficulties of settling in unfamiliar territory. While Jamestown settlers faced difficult ground and harsh winters, modern-day explorers face challenges like large craters and space radiation.

Crouch touched on this subject during his presentation.

"When we develop colonies on the moon, we have to ask the same questions Jamestown explorers asked -- that is, what do you have to take with you when you go to an extreme environment like this that will help you survive," he said.

Another theme in the lessons is transportation and the challenges both early and modern-day explorers have faced. Ships, known as "downwind sailors," were early voyagers' primary means of travel but could make little progress against winds from the wrong direction.

As explorers ventured into space, new challenges in vessel design had to be overcome. NASA engineers had to design and build craft that could withstand the extreme conditions experienced in the vacuum of space.

"The lessons provide students -- the next generation of explorers -- with an opportunity to look at the challenges and to understand the changes in technology and the spirit behind all exploration," said Ivelisse Gilman, informal education manager at NASA's Langley Research Center.

As history has shown, difficulties such as these will always surface when venturing to the unknown. But those who find ways to overcome those challenges will have the chance to discover new worlds.

Related Resources
Exploration: Then and Now -- NASA and Jamestown Education Module
NASA Education Web Site   →
NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
NASA's Langley Research Center Office of Education
The Power of Persistence
Astronaut Roger Crouch Biography   →

Emily Outen, LaRC