Shuttle Endeavour About to Blast Off on its Second to Last Mission, Make it a Teachable Moment

 Posted by DrJeff on February 6th, 2010

 Copyright 2010  |  About this blog


Photo Caption: Endeavour in orbit on flight STS-118, August 15, 2007. Click on the image for a breathtaking close up view. Read more about the image, and visit the STS-118 image gallery at NASA.


This is a Teachable Moments in the News QuickLinks Post. It connects a news story with this Blog’s existing powerful library of Posts and Resource Pages. The cited Posts and Pages provide a deep understanding of concepts in the earth and space sciences relevant to the news story. Teachers—the Posts and Pages are also designed for use as lessons, allowing you to easily bring current science into the classroom as a teachable moment. Each cited Post is outlined in the Teachers Lesson Planner, which includes the Post’s essential questions, concepts, objectives, and math skills.

This is crossposted at the Huffington Post HERE.


Follow the flight of Endeavour (STS-130) with liftoff currently scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8, 2010, 4:14 a.m. EST, at NASA’s Space Shuttle website.



A different kind of countdown has begun. It is now 2010. Before the next New Year’s celebration, the U.S. Space Shuttle program will be just a memory. Those that took pride in following along as this remarkable vehicle broke the surly bonds of Earth will surely feel they’ve lost a friend, and the pain of a very personal page turned forever will linger for quite some time. Those of you that follow news of the day as daily ritual, every so often hearing about a Space Shuttle blasting off or returning to Earth, will no longer experience that quick smile acknowledging pride in American leadership and technological prowess—at least not when it comes to human spaceflight.


The older generations world-wide will tell children what it was like to see a Shuttle blast off. It’s a sight that will be preserved in perpetuity on the internet, or whatever the internet will morph into. But in just 5 or 6 years we will be telling children about that time through which we lived when the Shuttle was flying—and these children will have no memory of it, for they will have been born in the post-shuttle age. Soon, the ancient history of Apollo will marry with the ancient history of the Space Shuttle for this new generation.


You and I are not alone in our living memories of Shuttle. Half the people alive today didn’t even know of a time when the Shuttle wasn’t flying, all of them born after April 1981 when John Young and Robert Crippen piloted Columbia into space as STS-1.


What’s the future for America in human spaceflight? The current long term plan for at least getting humans to low earth orbit—which is where you’ll find the International Space Station, a pretty hefty taxpayer investment—is to hand responsibility over to commercial companies with no current track record of getting even a single human there. So I’d like to put those companies on notice here. You’ve got big shoes to fill, and a spacefaring nation that is watching. You need to do us proud.


Since sometimes words are not enough, if you haven’t clicked on the photo above to see Endeavour up close in orbit, please do. And if you have, I know you’d like to click on it again—so be my guest.


Finally, if you have memories of the Space Shuttle you’d like to share with other readers of this Blog, you’re invited to leave a comment below.



Make Endeavour in orbit a teachable moment with your kids, or if you’re a teacher, with your class. Below are previous posts at Blog on the Universe that powerfully address the science, history, and politics of human spaceflight—and all of them embrace the notion that science education is about conceptual understanding at an emotional level.


The Business Trip

Essential questions: How far is ‘Outer Space’? What does this imply for the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere?

Weekly Challenge 4: You Want Me to Do What With a Bathroom Scale?

Essential question: Why are astronauts weightless in space?


TMN QuickLinks: Shuttle Atlantis in Orbit, Make it a Teachable Moment

Essential question: When a space shuttle launches—how heavy, how fast, how far?


Commentary on Blue Ribbon Panel Exploring NASA’s Strategic Options for Human Space Flight

Essential question: What should be the goal of human space flight?


Shuttle Atlantis Home! Prompts Me to Look at America’s Future … and I’m Troubled

Essential questions: Is the end of the space shuttle era a symptom of a larger problem for America? Are we taking science and technology education seriously?

Teachers and Parents: make sure to read about The Teacher’s Toolbox which is designed to help you put this Blog to work for your class and your children. If you’re new to Blog on the Universe read About this Blog.



To Teachers:

How did I figure out how many people alive today were born after the first flight of the space shuttle?

Make this an interdisciplinary teachable moment. Here is the data for the current (2010) world population by age group, as well as the total world population. Have your students figure out how long ago the first Shuttle flew, and how many people were born since then.


Solution: Shuttle has been flying for 29 years (since April 1981). Adding together all those born in the last 29 years gives 3.5 billion people, which is a little more than half (51%) of the total world population.


Here’s an extension. Have your students figure out how many people have been born since the first landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969, during the flight of Apollo 11. And since your students weren’t around then, let them live that experience through the eyes of others (including me) using these earlier Blog on the Universe posts:


Yesterday’s Launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Brings Back Memories of Apollo 11

Essential question: What was it like to live through the flight of Apollo 11—the most historic voyage in the history of the human race?


SPECIAL POST: Where Were You During the Flight of Apollo 11? Remember and Share—

Essential question: What were the experiences of people that lived through the historic flight of Apollo 11?


An Apollo 11 Personal Story

Essential questions: What is it like to meet your hero? What is the nature of human exploration?



Photocredit: NASA


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One Response to “Shuttle Endeavour About to Blast Off on its Second to Last Mission, Make it a Teachable Moment”

  1. Sunje Says:
    May 22nd, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I will miss the shuttle program, I will be honest. I grew up with it and I have had the incredible honor to see one of the shuttles, Atlantis STS-132, up close and watch it lift off into orbit from only 3 miles away. I have experienced the pride and dedication of the people involved in the program.
    At the same time, I know they are already working on a new way to send people into space. As the NASA employees, I listened to, explained, the current shuttles are not capable to venture deeper into space or even to Mars. Knowing that the resources freed up by leaving it to private companies will be put into research, I have no doubt that NASA will be able to astonish us again by showing us what’s possible.