Liftoff to Learning: Toys in Space 2
Video Title: Toys In Space 2
Video Length: 37:49
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This program demonstrates the actions of a variety of children's
toys in microgravity for classroom comparison with the actions of
similar toys on Earth.
- Position and motion of objects
- Properties of objects and materials
Unifying Concepts and Processes
-Change, constancy, and measurement
- Evidence, models, and exploration
Science and Technology
-Understanding about science and technology
-Abilities of technological design
Subjects: Toys in microgravity
Science Process Skills:
Table of Contents
Motion toys are effective tools for helping children learn science and
mathematics. Scientific and mathematical principles make these toys work.
For example, wind-up toys convert stored potential energy in their springs
into kinetic energy as the springs unwind. Gravity often plays an important
role in the actions of toys, but how would the same toys function in an
environment where the effects of gravity are not felt? The Space Shuttle
provides such a setting so students can discover the answer to this question.
A Space Shuttle orbiting around Earth is in a state of freefall which
eliminates the local effects of gravity, making objects inside appear
to float. NASA refers to this environment as microgravity. Videotapes
of toys in microgravity enable students to see subtle actions that gravity
masks on the surface of Earth.
Dr. Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston,
Texas, recognized the appeal of using toys in space. She assembled a small
group of toys and placed them onboard Space Shuttle mission 51-D that
flew in April of 1985. During the flight, crew members unstowed the toys
and experimented with them. Their experiments were videotaped and have
been used as an effective teaching tool in thousands of schools.
Because of this success, a second group of toys was flown on the STS-54
mission in January 1993. Dr. Sumners, working with a multi-grade and subject
area educational advisory group, selected the toys from hundreds of possibilities.
This videotape is the record of the actions of those toys in microgravity.
The Toys In Space II flight was conceived as an experiment in which the
Shuttle crew members and the student viewers of the videotape would be
co-investigators. Students begin the experiment by investigating how selected
toys function on Earth.
To gain the greatest benefit from this videotape, students should then
develop a set of experimental questions about how these toys will function
in microgravity. For example, can a basketball be thrown into a basket
in space? Will a wind-up toy submarine swim in air? Will a Jacob's ladder
flip? Through their own experiments, students develop hypotheses to answer
Students test their hypotheses by watching the videotape to see what actually
happened in space. While not all student questions will be addressed by
the orbital experiments, enough information can be gained from watching
the videotape to accept, refine, or develop new hypotheses and explanations
for what was observed.
Many of the toys chosen for the flight are readily available from toy
stores. However, other toys, such as the comeback can, paper maple seed,
paper boomerang, and the Jacob's ladder can be made by the students. Construction
procedures are included in the toy section of this guide.
One set of toys can adequately allow all students in the class to experience
examining the toys and forming hypotheses if the teacher keeps the following
strategies in mind:
- Students can be organized into cooperative study groups that specialize
on one or more toys and report to the rest of the class.
- Each student can specialize in a particular toy and report to the
rest of the class.
- Each student can experiment with every available toy and engage in
class discussions on how the toys will operate in space.
The following is a list of the toys used by the STS-54 crew:
Available at Toy Stores
- Flipping mouse ("Rat Stuff")
Spring jumper ( wind-up frog)
Swimming frog (wind-up)
Swimming angel fish (wind-up)
Swimming submarine (wind- up)
Flapping bird (trade name: Tim Bird)
Balloon helicopter (trade name: Whistling Balloon Helicopter)
Gyroscope (trade name: Gravitron)
Rattleback (trade name: Space Pet)
Klacker balls (various trade names)
Racquetballs and pool balls
Velcro balls and target (various trade names)
Horseshoes and post (plastic or rubber shoes)
Basketball and hoop (foam rubber ball, hoop with suction cups)
Metal Coiled Spring (trade Name: Slinky)
Police car and track (trade name: Darda)
Magnetic marbles (trade name)
Magnetic rings (see plans)
Toys that can be made
- maple seed
Ball and cup
Most of the toys can be purchased from several vendors who have
collected many of the toys from one or both Shuttle flights into
packages. Three vendors are listed below:
- NASA CORE
Lorain County JVS
15181 Route 58 South
Oberlin, OH 44074
Delta Education, Inc.
P.O. Box 950
Hudson, New Hampshire 03051
No longer available
84 Route 27
Mystic, CT 06355
498 Washington Street
Hagerstown, IN 47345
This videotape is intended to be shown in segments to the students. The
introduction is a greeting from the STS-54 crew, a description of their
flight and an invitation to the students to participate in the experiment
as co-investigators. The videotape does not demonstrate why objects
appear to float on the Space Shuttle when it is in orbit. That topic is
left to the teacher.
Please refer to the section of this guide on microgravity for help explaining
and demonstrating microgravity. The videotape concludes with a farewell
by the STS-54 crew.
The introduction of the tape is followed with toy demonstrations. The toys
are demonstrated in the following order, with the segments separated from
each other by titles and music:
Swimming angel fish
|Racquetballs and pool balls
Ball and cup
Velcro balls and target
Horseshoes and post
Basketball and hoop
Coiled metal spring
Police car and track
| Note - Additional information on each of the
toys tested in the Toys in Space II flight begins with the Toys in
Space 2 Experiments of this guide. Suggested activities, brief descriptions
of what happened during the flight, and science and mathematics links
also follow. The science/math links provide lists of relevant terms,
principles, and equations. Additional information about these links
begins with the Glossary section.
Many people misunderstand why astronauts appear to float in space. A common
misconception is that there is no gravity in space. Another common idea
is that the gravity from Earth and the Moon each pull on the astronauts
from the opposite direction and cancel out.
The real reason astronauts appear to float is that they are in a state of
freefall around Earth. To help your students understand microgravity, show
them the videotape Space Basics or use the Microgravity - A Teacher's
Guide with NASA educational products, refer to the References and Resources
List on page 24.
Understanding why astronauts appear to float in space first requires an
understanding of how the astronauts and their space vehicle stay in orbit.
Rather than orbiting Earth because there is no gravity in space, the astronauts
and the Space Shuttle orbit Earth because there is gravity.
More than 300 years ago the English scientist Isaac Newton discovered the
universal law of gravitation. He reasoned that the pull of Earth that causes
an apple to fall to the ground also extends out into space to pull on the
Moon as well. Newton expanded this discovery and hypothesized how an artificial
satellite could be made to orbit Earth. He envisioned a very tall mountain
extending above Earth's atmosphere so that friction with the air would not
be a factor. He then imagined a cannon at the top of that mountain firing
cannonballs parallel to the ground. As each cannonball was fired, it was
acted upon by two forces. One force propelled the cannonball straight forward
and the second force, gravity, pulled the cannonball down towards Earth.
The two forces combined to bend the path of the cannonball into an arc ending
at the Earth's surface.
Newton demonstrated how additional cannonballs would travel farther from
the mountain if the cannon were loaded with more gunpowder each time it
was fired. Eventually, a cannonball was fired so fast, in Newton's imagination,
that it fell entirely around the Earth and came back to its starting point.
This is called an orbit of the Earth.
STS-54 mission commander John Casper experiments with the
Mission specialist Susan Helms tries to understand the strange behavior
of the Jacob's ladder
Without gravity to bend the cannonball's path, the cannonball would not
orbit the Earth and would instead shoot straight out into space. The same
condition applies to Space Shuttles. The Space Shuttle is launched high
above the Earth and aimed so that it travels parallel to the ground. If
it climbs to a 321-kilometer-high orbit, the Shuttle must travel at a speed
of about 27,750 kilometers per hour to circle the Earth. At this speed and
altitude, the curvature of the Shuttle's falling path will exactly match
the curvature of Earth.
Knowing that gravity is responsible for keeping satellites in orbit leads
us to the question, why do astronauts appear to float in space? The answer
is simple: the Space Shuttle orbiter falls in a circular path about Earth
and so does everything in it. The orbiter, astronauts, and the contents
of the orbiter (food, tools, cameras, etc.) all fall together so they seem
to float in relation to each other. Imagine if the cables supporting a high
elevator would break, causing the car and its passengers to fall to the
ground. Discounting the effects of air friction on the elevator, the car
and its passengers all fall together at the same rate, so the passengers
seem to float.
The floating effect of Space Shuttles and astronauts in orbit has been called
by many names such as freefall, weightlessness, zero-G (zero-gravity),
or microgravity. Weightlessness and zero-G are incorrect terms that
imply that gravity goes away in space. The term freefall best describes
what causes the floating effect. Space scientists prefer to use the technical
term microgravity because it includes the very small (micro) accelerations
that are still experienced in orbit regardless of the objects falling.
|Classroom Microgravity Demonstration
To demonstrate microgravity in freefall, poke a small hole near the
bottom of an empty soft drink can. Cover the hole with your thumb
and fill the can with water. While holding the can over a catch basin
on the floor, remove your thumb and observe the water stream. Reseal
the hole and refill the can. This time drop the can into the basin
and watch to see if the water streams out of the hole. What happens?
Why? (Recycle the can after you are finished with it.)
| Other Toys In Space Videotapes. The original
Toys In Space (1985 flight) videotape is available from NASA
Educator Resource Centers. The live lesson (Physics of Toys) that
was conducted during the STS-54 mission is also available
Some of the text in this video resource guide was provided by Dr.
Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences; Houston,
Texas. Dr. Sumners, working with an educator advisory panel, selected
the toys shown in this videotape and planned the experiments. She
has published a book on the two Toys in Space experiments. Refer to
the reference section of this guide for the book's title.
A technical review of physics concepts was provided by Dr. Tom Hudson
Physics Department, University of Houston,, Texas.
Lowry, Patricia, dir. Toys In Space II, National Aeronautics and
Space Administration, 1994.
Baker, Diedra, dir. Space Basics, National Aeronautics and Space
Baker, Diedra, dir. Newton In Space, National Aeronautics and Space
Vogt, Gregory L., Wargo, Michael J.Microgravity -Teaching Guide With
Activities for Physical Science, EG-103, National Aeronautics and Space
Sumners, Carolyn R. Toys In Space: Exploring Science With The Astronauts,
TAB Books,A Division of McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1994.
Commander: John H. Casper (COL,
Pilot: Donald R. McMonagle
Mission Specialist: Gregory J. Harbaugh.
Mission Specialist: Mario Runco, Jr. (LCDR,
Mission Specialist: Susan J. Helms (MAJ, USAF)
To obtain biographic information, click on highlighted names