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Liftoff to Learning: Living in Space

Video Title: Living in Space
Video Length: 10:00
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This program discusses the similarities and differences between living on Earth and living in space.

Mathematics Standards:
Problem Solving

  Science Standards:
Physical Science
- Position and motion of objects
Life Science
- Organisms and environments

Science Process Skills:
Making Models

Subjects: Living in space.

Table of Contents


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 to float on. The floating effect is called microgravity.

Microgravity refers to an environment in which the local effects of gravity have virtually been eliminated by freefall. 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 become a little more difficult, like handling tools and fluids. 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 very easy because they feel like they do not have any weight. But, once you get a massive object moving, you have to be able to stop it too. Otherwise, it will collide with the inside walls of your spacecraft with the same force you used to get it moving.

Classroom Activities  contents

Microgravity Through Falling


Paper cup
Colorful wooden bead (1-2 cm in diameter)
Several paper clips
Cellophane tape

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 above. 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. Hold the cup high in the air by the bead and drop it to the floor. Observe the bead and cup as they fall. Try letting go of the bead again, but this time hold on to the bottom of the cup. How does this demonstration show that freefall creates microgravity?
 illustration of set up

Tight Working Spaces


Four tables
Art supplies
Building blocks
Action toys such as construction sets

Demonstrate the importance of teamwork and cooperation by creating a small work space in the classroom with four tables arranged in a square so that there is a small working space in the middle about large enough to fit a small couch. Place art supplies, building blocks, and other items around 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. The jobs should involve sharing tools and supplies. 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. After other 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?

Space Food


Instant chocolate pudding (several packages)
Plastic self-sealing bags (sandwich size)

Show how space foods are prepared in space by making chocolate pudding. Add about one quarter of a box of instant pudding mix to a plastic bag. Add water to the bag according to directions. Seal the bag and begin kneading it until it is ready to eat. This activity shows how astronauts prepare drymix, 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 pre-cooked foods in foil/plastic pouches.

Relaxing In Space


Various items such as balls, paper, coins, tape, pencils, etc.

Ask your students to try to invent games and other forms of relaxation that could be used on the Space Shuttle during periods of free time. Point out to 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 how well they would work in space.

Terms  contents

Atmosphere - The envelope of air surrounding Earth to an approximate distance of 160 kilometers.

Convection Oven - A small compartment in the Shuttle's kitchen in which prepackaged foods are heated with forced hot air.

Gravity - The attraction of all objects to one another due to their mass.

Microgravity - An environment, produced by freefall, that alters the local effects of gravity and makes objects seem weightless.

Satellite - (Artificial) A spacecraft that orbits around the Earth or some other large body in space.

Space Shuttle - The reusable space vehicle, consisting of an orbiter, external tank, and two solid rocket boosters, that carries humans and other payloads into Earth orbit.

Waste Collection System - The name for the toilet on the Space Shuttle.


STS-56 Crew Biographies

Commander: Kenneth D.Cameron (COL, USMC)
Pilot: Stephen S. Oswald
Mission Specialist: C. Michael Foale (Ph. D.)
Mission Specialist: Kenneth D. Cockell
Mission Specialist: Ellen Ochoa (Ph. D.)

To obtain biographic information, click on highlighted names


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