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Helping Kids Deal With the Space Shuttle Tragedy


Curriculum CenterOn Saturday, February 1, 2003, at just about 8 a.m. CST, the Space Shuttle Columbia, carrying seven astronauts, broke up over Texas, only a few minutes before its scheduled touchdown. Today, Education World offers resources to help you help your students deal with the Columbia tragedy, and to help them understand the history and goals of the U.S. space program. Included: Online resources to teach kids about the Space Shuttle program and to help them cope with the Columbia accident.

On Saturday, February 1, 2003, at just about 8 a.m. CST, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas. The Shuttle, carrying astronauts David Brown, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon, was only a few minutes from its scheduled touchdown at Floridas Kennedy Space Center.

Most likely, your students have spent the weekend inundated by news coverage of the event. As always, when national or international tragedies occur, students need an opportunity to discuss the event and to understand its causes and implications. Some students might be wondering whether the Space Shuttle tragedy was a result of terrorist activities. Others might question why men and women risk their lives for space exploration. Your youngest students, those most likely to personalize the accident, might be afraid of additional falling debris from space.

Education World offers the following resources to help you help your students deal with news coverage of the Columbia tragedy, and to help them understand the history and goals of the space program.

In addition, be sure to see 2003: A Space Tragedy -- Examining the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster, today's lesson plan from the New York Times Learning Network. In this activity, based on a New York Times news article, students examine the facts and logistics connected to the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy.

Some Questions
To Talk About.

Talking about the Columbia accident can help students deal with their feelings about the event. Following are a few questions you might pose to your students as they struggle to put the tragedy into perspective.

* Where were you when you learned what happened to the Columbia? What was your first reaction when you heard the news?

* Does it take a special kind of person to know and accept the dangers of going where most others would fear to go?

* Do you think some people are born to be explorers? What traits do you think most explorers share?

* How do the dangers astronauts face today compare to dangers faced by explorers of the past? (Think about Columbus, Lewis and Clark, the very first humans to go into space)

* Knowing what you know about the dangers of traveling in space, would you sign up to be an astronaut? Why or why not?

* Do you think the Space Shuttle program should continue? Why or why not?


Tips for Talking About Disaster
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a number of resources on how teachers and parents can help children deal with disaster. Although many of the resources are specific to terrorist events, most provide tips for helping kids express their feelings after any type of public tragedy.

Helping Our Children in Difficult Times
PBS offers tips on how parents can keep their children feeling safe when public tragedies and upsetting events occur.

Talking With Children When Disaster Strikes
A psychologist discusses how parents and teachers can deal with childrens reactions to public disasters.

Helping Preschoolers Understand Death
This article includes a section on explaining to children the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle.

Talking with Kids About the News
Children Now offers ten tips to help parents determine what news their children should watch, read, or listen to and how to help their children understand the news they are exposed to. The site includes a discussion of the age appropriateness of news viewing, explanations of the types of news most likely to upset children, and practical pointers on how to help children deal with the most upsetting news stories.

How to Talk to Your Child About the News
Kids Health offers advice on how to talk with kids about the news.

Talking to Kids about the News
Media Awareness Network offers tips on helping kids understand and cope with the news.

This site, maintained by GriefNet, is a place for kids to share and deal with feelings of loss.


The following sites provide information specific to Columbia and the Space Shuttle program.

Background Information on the Columbia Space Shuttle Mission STS-107
This NASA site includes Crew Biographies and a Mission Overview.

Human Spaceflight
This site provides background information about the Columbia and initial information about the Shuttle accident.

Columbia Live Landing Coverage
Read statements on the Columbia disaster by President Bush, NASA Administrator Sean OKeefe, and Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore.

How Space Shuttles Work
How Stuff Works provides this tutorial that includes a history of the Space Shuttle program, as well as explanations about how the Space Shuttle works and about the work it does.

This site includes the ground track of Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003.

The Space Shuttle
This site provides a clickable diagram of the Space Shuttle.

The Challenger Accident
The Space Policy Project of the Federation of American Scientists presents this page of resources about the 1986 loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle.


Despite the dangers -- and the occasional tragedies -- humans will continue to explore space. At Space Exploration, from the Utah Education Network, you will find an excellent hotlist of links to people, places, activities, and teacher resources related to space exploration.

In addition, the NASA sites listed below provide comprehensive and up-to-date information about the U.S. space program -- information that might help students understand why men and women risk their lives to travel into space.

Today, NASAs site includes information about the Columbia tragedy and the ensuing investigation. The site also includes a section Just for Kids.

Kennedy Space Center
In addition to its regular resources, the site today provides video of remarks on the Columbia accident by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore.

NASA for Kids
This Marshall Space Flight Center Web site is for kids younger than 13. The site includes information about rockets, airplanes, satellites, space probes, astronauts, life in space, and more.

Liftoff to Space Exploration
This site, also from the Marshall Space Flight Center, is for kids older than 13. It offers the latest science news from space and space research, data about spacecraft, information about space and the solar system, the basics of space science, including astronomy and microgravity, and explanations of how scientists track spacecraft.

Planet Quest
Discover information about space exploration and about some of the scientific research planned for future missions.

Read the latest news from space.

Read the latest news from space in Spanish.

Star Child
The Space Stuff section of this site provides information about astronauts, space travel, space probes, and space suits.

NASA Quest
This site for educators, kids and space enthusiasts interested in learning about the people and programs of NASA includes lesson plans, biographies, collaborative activities, and live interactions with NASA scientists.

The Space Place
Discover lots of space-related information and activities for elementary age students.

Space Science
This site provides resources to help educators include space science themes in their curricula. Included are Space Science Education/Public Outreach Sites and The Space Science Education Resource Directory, a search engine for space science products that can be used in classrooms.

Aerospace Medicine
Learn about the earthly benefits of many of the products developed as scientists searched for solutions to problems related to space exploration.

For more resources on helping kids deal with disaster, check out the Education World article Helping Children Cope: Teacher Resources for Talking About Tragedy. For more space-related resources, see the resources at Education Worlds special Space Age section.

Linda Starr
Copyright © 2003 Education World