Educator Features

Living in Space
Teacher Section

Objective: To complete four activities that simulate different aspects of living in space.

Grade Level: K-4
Subject(s): Science, Technology
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Duration: Extended
Materials Category: Special

National Education Standards
Science as inquiry
        Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
History and Nature of Science
        Science as a human endeavor

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
        Everyone can design solutions to a problem
Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, inventions and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.
        Asking questions and making observations helps a person to figure out how things
Students will develop the abilities to apply the design process.
        Brainstorm people's needs and wants and pick some problems that can be solved
        through the design process.
  • Four tables
  • Art supplies
  • Building blocks
  • Action toys, such as construction sets
  • Paper cup
  • Thread
  • Colorful wooden bead (1-2 centimeters in diameter)
  • Several paper clips
  • Cellophane tape
  • Instant pudding (several packages)
  • Plastic self-sealing bags (sandwich size)
  • Water
  • Spoons
  • Various items, such as balls, paper, coins, tape, pencils, etc.
Pre-lesson Instructions

Illustration of a cup falling with a ball connected to the top rim of the cup
This lesson includes four different activities. You may choose to complete them with the entire class or to set them up as learning stations around which four groups can rotate.

Image to right: A string connects a falling cup with a ball. The ball is directly above the cup, pulling the string tight. Credit: NASA
  • Tight Working Spaces
    This activity will demonstrate the importance of teamwork and cooperation. Create a small workspace in the classroom with four tables arranged in a square so that there is a small working space in the middle. Place art supplies, building blocks and other items on the tables. Make up several jobs, such as drawing a picture of the Space Shuttle, folding a paper airplane or building a tower of blocks.

  • Microgravity Through Falling
    You can show how objects appear to float by tying a wooden bead to a paper cup with thread and dropping them together. Assemble the demonstration as shown in the illustration to the right. Because of air friction, it may be necessary to add a few paper clips to the bottom of the cup to make it fall as fast as the bead.

  • Space Food
    Show how foods are prepared in space by making instant pudding.

  • Relaxing in Space
    Students will create games that could be used on the Space Shuttle.
Background Information

In many ways, living in space is not very different from living on Earth. In other ways, it is quite different. Astronauts in orbit above Earth must do the same things inside their spacecraft to live as we do on Earth. They have to eat, work as a part of a team, exercise, relax, maintain hygiene and sleep. The only significant differences from living on Earth are that they operate in the confined space of the Space Shuttle orbiter cabin and that they, and all objects inside the cabin, float. Actually, floating is not quite the correct word to use because in order to float, astronauts have to have something on which to float.

Microgravity refers to an environment in which there is a virtual absence of gravity. For example, imagine that you and a friend are riding in an elevator car when the elevator cables break. As you plummet down the elevator shaft, you and your friend experience microgravity. In other words, you are falling together inside the car. This makes both of you appear to float.

Of course, gravity has not really gone away when you fall, but its effects inside the elevator car have. For example, what would the dial on a bathroom scale read if you could stand on it as you fall? Because of microgravity on the Space Shuttle, some jobs, like handling tools and fluids, become more difficult. If you are not careful, things will float away. Eating is also more of a challenge and so is going to the lavatory. Other jobs, however, become easier. Moving about is very easy and so is reaching the top shelf. Moving massive objects is easy because they feel light. Otherwise, it will collide with the inside walls of your spacecraft with the same force you used to get it moving.

  1. Tight Working Spaces
    Select seven children to work inside the space at a time. Give them a time limit for completing all the jobs. Have other students observe the activity and take notes of problems they see and more efficient ways of doing things.

  2. Microgravity Through Falling
    Hold the cup high in the air by the bead, and drop it to the floor. Observe the bead and cup as they fall. What happened? Try letting go of the bead again, but this time hold on to the bottom of the cup. What happened this time?

  3. Space Food
    Add 2 or 3 spoonfuls of instant pudding mix to a plastic sandwich bag. Add enough water to the bag to moisten the pudding to create the desired consistency. Seal the bag and begin kneading it until it is ready to eat. This activity shows how astronauts prepare dry-mix and freeze-dried foods in space. Preparing the food inside plastic bags prevents water from escaping inside the Space Shuttle cabin. Other kinds of food used in space include fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts and precooked foods in foil/plastic pouches.

  4. Relaxing in Space
    Ask your students to try to invent games and other relaxing activities that could be used on the Space Shuttle during periods of free time. Tell them that games requiring small pieces could be a problem if the pieces drift away. Test the games to see how much fun they are and predict how well they would work in space.

Discussion / Wrap-up
  • Tight Working Spaces
    After students have tried the tasks, hold a group discussion to talk about what was learned. How does this activity relate to working on the Space Shuttle?

  • Microgravity Through Falling
    Was there a difference between what happened to the bead when you dropped the cup and when you held onto the cup? How does this demonstration show the effect of free fall?

  • Space Food
    Why do astronauts prepare their foods in plastic bags? Why is food dried out before being launched? By taking out the water, the food doesn't weigh as much. This leaves more space for cargo on the Space Shuttle..

  • Relaxing in Space
    What games did your students develop? Could they be used in orbit? Are there any reasons why these games might not work in microgravity?