What exciting times we live in now. Even as our own planet takes a deep dive into climate change, pandemics, impending cicada invasions, we still dream of the future of space travel. It may be that some of us are hoping for a way to cure our earthly ills by removing ourselves to other planets, while others hope to gain knowledge that we might use to inform our lives right here. No matter the view, using primary sources to unravel the history – and the science – behind our success in reaching the stars and planets can be an exciting investigation that reaches deep for all kinds of student interest. Start with these two images. Use one as a Q-focus, then slide in the other- what kinds of questions come up for your students? Prioritize the most compelling and interesting questions for further study and then spend some time with the resources below. By the time you're done with these... your students will have found many more to drive their personal interest towards investigations. Seriously, no matter what your student is interested in- space travel probably impacted it.
Here are some primary source sites to consider using for thinking about space and space travel then and now. Using the Space Race, Moon landing, Space Exploration or other key concepts, help students investigate some of the many primary sources that can lead to absolutely interesting connections to today, as well as providing some context to their research of the times. These topics can be used in so many classes, in so many ways including using the social studies venues of Political, Economic, Cultural, Social perspectives to think about space travel. Here are just a few - barely scratching the surface of what might be available to explore. Topics that these images can cover can be found in science (how do they do that? What technology is needed to make this happen? What is it like in space?); social science (what is the geography of different planets, why do we continue to go into space?). Journalism classes can check out the newspaper accounts (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).
Think about images and sound recordings as Q-focus items for creating research questions – or just to jumpstart some of that excitement that “going to the moon” can create.
Imagine the questions your students could think of as they watch this video of President Nixon talking to the astronauts on the moon.
Then head over to the Eisenhower library for more resources on early space adventures.
Youth Science Month
This document demonstrates the realization amongst adults that in order to compete with other nations (especially Russia), our youth need to be educated- especially in science. How does this realization also play out today? Do students today feel the adult push for science that students in the 1950’s and ‘60’s did? How did this push for science play out into activities that we still use today? I love how this article could provide any number of inquiries.
A particularly poignant document is the Safire Memo.
According to the National Archives, one of their most requested documents concern what was called the "Safire Memo": Chief of Staff William Safire was tasked to write the memo that could have been President Nixon’s speech should the Apollo mission fail, and the astronauts not return. Luckily, it was never needed, but it shows how important it is to think about the ramifications of all actions.
Congratulations to Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin were sent to the USSR from President Kennedy. While the telegram expresses the optimism of the successful flight, send students deeper into the papers within this folder housed at the Kennedy Library to see how the space race affected national and international policies; securing the stage for the “Cold War” that existed between nations.
Here is an question-answering activity created by the library based on these materials.
The Digital Public Library of America shares images and other primary source content about the space race: consider using an image like this without the explanatory caption included here, as a Q-focus . After the students have completed their question list – slide in the caption. What other questions might we now ask? Then take a look at the President’s telegram (above) as well as Eisenhower’s push for science education after Sputnik.
And don’t forget the women behind the scenes whose work was essential to the success of the space race. National Geographic offers an historical look-back with images:
Here’s a list of NASA women in space and some statistics. Hand out some of these names for students to explore and then return to class and share: https://history.nasa.gov/women.html. Have students use the scientist's name and then .gov to search in government resources like this: <Susan Helms site:.gov>.