Humans in Space

Target Audience
  • Students
Hosting Center(s)
  • Glenn Research Center
  • Armstrong Flight Research Center
  • Marshall Space Flight Center
Subject Category
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science / Biology
Unit Correlation
  • Exploring Space
Grade Level
  • K-04
  • 05-08
  • 09-12
Minimum Delivery Time
  • 030 min(s)
Maximum Connection Time
  • 060 min(s)

Event Focus

You have just been selected as the next astronaut to spend six months on the International Space Station. How is your day-to-day life going to be different? What changes are you going to have to deal with living in space?



This module is appropriate for video conference AND web conference presentation.

This event focuses on the living environment in space. Participants of this event learn what it is like to live and work in space. Physiological, physical, and mental challenges are presented and participants are asked to suggest solutions to problems that astronauts living in space must overcome.


Instructional Objectives




The learners will begin by learning that humans have been living in space their entire lives.


The learners will explore the conditions of space and how they differ from earth.


The learners will look at how daily functions are carried out in a space environment.


The learners will consider some of the changes on the human body caused by living in space.


The learners will demonstrate their learning by discussing ways to counteract the effects of living in space.


Sequence of Events


Pre-Conference Activities


Prior to your videoconference, check out the Life Sciences Data Archive, which contains information about a number of different topics concerning living in space.


Read some of the parts that sound interesting to you and think of some questions that you might want to ask during the video conference.





Atrophy: a wasting away of the body or of an organ or part, as from disuse. An astronaut's muscles can atrophy after time in space.

Cosmic radiation: high-energy radiation that is emitted from the sun to all directions in space. Humans in space need some protection, especially during times of high solar activity

Countermeasure: a measure or action taken to counter or offset another one. Astronauts exercise as much as two hours a day with special equipment as a countermeasure against bone loss and muscle atrophy.

Demineralization: the loss, deprivation, or removal of minerals or mineral salts from the body, especially through disease, as the loss of calcium from bones or teeth. Since this happens during prolonged exposure to the microgravity of space, nutritionists work to improve levels of calcium and other minerals in space diets.

Distill: to heat a liquid to make it a gas and then to cool the gas back to a liquid so that it is pure. One way to minimize the amount of water that has to be supplied from the earth is to distill waste water and fluids back into drinking water.

Fluid: a substance, as a liquid or gas, that is capable of flowing. Ordinary methods of dealing with fluids, such a pouring, will not work in space.

Microgravity: in the freefall of orbit, a person experiences a slight gravitational attraction to the earth called microgravity, although the overall sensation is that of being weightless.

Nutrition: the science or study that deals with food and nourishment, especially in humans. Good nutrition is important in an astronaut's food choice to maintain health and prevent bone loss in space.

Orbit: to move or travel around a central object in an orbital or elliptical path. The earth orbits the sun once every 365.25 days. The space shuttle orbits the earth every 90 minutes.

Physiology: the branch of biology dealing with the functions and activities of living organisms and their parts, including all physical and chemical processes. One of the major activities on the space station is to study the changes in physiology brought on by living in a near-weightless environment.

Recycle: to treat or process used or waste materials so as to make suitable for reuse. Astronauts recycle water to minimize the amount that must be carried into space and stored.

Weightless: the condition of being in a continual freefall during orbit so that all sense of gravitational attraction is lost. Astronauts need some time to get used to being weightless in space. They are able to move and install very large parts of the space station because these parts, which weigh several tons on earth, are weightless in space.



Videoconference Activities


At the beginning of the video conference, the presenter may talk about how the technology works, how he will ask questions, and talk with them, just like "what scientists do when we work. We like to talk with each other and say, 'Have you ever run into this problem? What would you do?'"? The presenter will use pictures on the screen behind him, drawings, movies and other graphics to help students develop an understanding of the basic concepts of humans in space.


In this video conference, the presenter will get students thinking about the basics of living in space. Along the way, he will help them develop a concept of space through asking questions and using models, movies and pictures to answer student questions. The presenter will ask questions like the following. First he will ask the question, then listen to student answers, and build on their preconceptions to help them to rethink and extend their ideas to be accurate.


What is outer space? Why is it black? Why isn't it blue? (show image of earth in space, point out atmosphere, use basketball in a pillowcase analogy)

How do you get there? (use shuttle model)

How far away is it? (20 questions format, earth analogy of driving for an hour - that's 60 miles away)

How long does it take to get there?

What is it like to live in space? (reduced gravity's effect on people, video of water balloons, making and drinking orange juice)

What do you think it is like to come back into gravity? (Who has been sick in bed for a week? What does it feel like when you get up?)

More than half of the time will then be for students to ask questions. The presenter will use this time to model questioning, thinking through issues, and to praise the students for asking good questions to build their confidence. He will often answer questions with questions, then show models, make diagrams, or show movies.


Here are some questions we have heard in other video conferences and the way the presenter takes the key idea from the student's question and helps them develop an accurate idea.


1) What if you run out of air? (have to take all your air with you so engineers have to do their math well to figure out the right amount)

2) How long is it from the moon to Mars? (you wouldn't go that way because the hardest part is "crawling out of the gravity well, so you wouldn't want to that twice; will show a diagram of Earth & moon and sun, Earth and Mars and how we connect with Mars)

3) How do you tell what time it is? (90 minutes to orbit the Earth, so day and night is 45 minutes. Time set to Houston)

4) What do the beds look like? (Do you need a bed with reduced gravity? they use bags, show pictures, talk about floating arms)

5) What kind of food do they eat? (take the water out, add water when they eat it, eat together at a table, fod can be warmed, nutrition is very very important, crumbs are hard to clean up  Show pictures)

6) What happens if someone gets sick? (healthy life, quarantine right before, sick from reduced gravity, bruises and cuts, serious problems come home in escape vehicles)

7) Have you been to outer space? (how you get to go, when more people will get to go, 100 astronauts right now, 500 people have gone in 50 years)

8) If someone dies, what do they do with the bodies? (space travel is dangerous, history of deaths - 17 Americans, 5 Russians)

9) What do you do after you send a space shuttle up? (purpose of space shuttle, escape vehicles, Russian vehicles vs. ours. Show models, show scale to a human)

10) How did you get your job? (starts with your interest in middle school, taking math and science classes, studying hard, developing discipline, taking math and science in high school, going to college, learning to get along with other people, think on your feet, need to be healthy, then apply to work at NASA. Show pictures of astronauts)

11) How do they go to the bathroom? (reminder about what liquids do in space, pictures and description of the toilet, use of diapers during space walks)

12) What happens if the ship malfunctions? (astronauts trained to take things apart and fix them, resupply ships bring extra parts, duck tape. Show pictures of interior)

13) How do they change their clothes? (resupply ship, pictures of bags to be disposed of, pictures of wet towel for bathing)

14) Do compasses work in outer space? Where is north? (they work but are misleading and why)


Post-Conference Activities


Make a list of five things that you learned and why they interest you.


Suppose you are hired as a medical researcher for NASA. What is the first area about what happens to humans in space that you would like to investigate? Why did you choose this area as your first assignment?




At  Space Work, find out the kinds of work astronauts do while they are in space. 


NASA's Living in Space site provides additional details about the problems humans face as they orbit the earth.


Before humans began living in space, animals were sent up to see if living beings could survive the physiological challenges of the space environment. This site gives you information on the way in which animals were used to explore space. You may want students to analyze the risks and benefits of such testing. Animals in Space.




NSTA Science Content Standards: 5-8






  • Scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences. Scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations. Technological solutions are temporary; technologies exist within nature and so they cannot contravene physical or biological principles; technological solutions have side effects; and technologies cost, carry risks, and provide benefits, as seen in such areas as bone loss in space and countermeasures taken againt it.
NSTA Science Content Standards: 9-12





  • Gravitation is a universal force that each mass exerts on any other mass. The strength of the gravitational attractive force between two masses is proportional to the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. When this force in minimized on humans in space, a whole new set of measures must be taken to maintain as near a normal lifestyle as possible. Some solutions look towards the creation of artificial gravity.






  • Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Long term exposure to radiation in space and loss of bone and muscle are risks that need to be considered for humans living and working in space.

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Page Last Updated: November 5th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator