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Return to the Moon


Subject(s) Science --Space Science


Grades 2-up

News Content

The U.S. hopes to resume manned flights to the moon.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below.

  • The last time the U.S. sent an astronaut to walk on the moon was in the year 1999.
  • The space shuttle Challenger will carry astronauts to the moon.
  • Altogether, three U.S. astronauts have walked on the moon.

    News Words

    Talk about the words in the News Word Box on the students' news page. Have students use one of the words in the box to complete each sentence below.

  • Modern _____ enables us to do many things we could not do 20 years ago. (technology)
  • Sailors travel beneath the sea in a _____ called a submarine. (vehicle)
  • The _____ of the American Red Cross is to help people when disaster strikes. (mission)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this week's news story Return to the Moon.

    Reading the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:
    • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.
    • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.
    • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this week's news story:

    Back in 1972, when U.S. astronauts last explored the moon, their journeys were quick ones. (The longest mission to the moon, aboard Apollo 17, was 75 hours.) The new spaceship will enable astronauts to stay on the moon for four to seven days. This time, according to NASA, "we're going to stay, building outposts and paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond."

    The new moon CEV (crew exploration vehicle) will be shaped like an Apollo space capsule, but it will be different in many ways:

  • It will be three times larger. It will be designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crewmembers on future missions to Mars, and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station.
  • It will have solar panels to provide power.
  • It will run on liquid methane fuel. (NASA is planning for a day when astronauts might convert Martian atmospheric resources into methane fuel.)
  • The spacecraft can also operate without a crew in lunar orbit, eliminating the need for one astronaut to stay behind while others explore the surface.

    Share an artist's drawing of the CEV as it docks with the International Space Station. Notice how it is shaped like the old Apollo except for the solar panels that extend from it.

    The winged space shuttles that are currently used to carry astronauts into space are designed for use in low-Earth orbit; they are inappropriate for moon exploration. The shuttles are designed for re-entry from an Earth orbital speed of 17,500 mph, not the 25,000 mph speed required of a moon mission. Currently, there is no thermal protection system that would protect the shuttles' wings from such a high heat load.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.

  • The last time the U.S. sent an astronaut to walk on the moon was in the year 1999. (false, an astronaut last walked on the moon more than 30 years ago -- in 1972)
  • The space shuttle Discovery will carry astronauts to the moon. (false, the shuttle is inappropriate for travel to and from the moon)
  • Altogether, three U.S. astronauts have walked on the moon. (false, a total of 12 U.S. astronauts walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972)

    You might follow-up that activity with some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • When do NASA officials hope to send astronauts to the moon again? (in 2018)
  • When was the last time that U.S. astronauts walked on the moon? (in 1972)
  • Who was the first astronaut to ever walk on the moon? (Neil Armstrong)
  • How much will it cost to build a new spaceship to carry astronauts to the moon? ($104 billion)
  • How many astronauts will the new spaceship carry to the moon? (four; later, it might support up to six astronauts on a mission to Mars)
  • The new spaceship will be called a CEV. For what do the letters CEV stand? (crew exploration vehicle)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News questions that appear on the students' news page. Many people say that we should put money used to build new space vehicles toward solving other problems in America (for example, rebuilding New Orleans after the flood, solving issues of poverty, improving our schools). "The space program is a long-term investment in our future," counters NASA administrator Michael Griffin. "We must deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments in our future." NASA officials say the moon provides many opportunities to develop technologies and techniques needed for opening the space frontier. It allows us to learn how to survive long-term stays in other worlds. This will build confidence that we can stay on the surface of another planet for longer periods of time and ultimately venture to Mars.

    Follow-Up Activities

    History. Relive the day in history -- July 20, 1969 -- when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon by taking students on a virtual tour of the Apollo 11 mission.

    Science. Have students use library or Internet resources, such as Sea and Sky's Space Exploration Timeline, to sequence the following events in space history. (The year in which each event took place appears in parentheses.) Students might work in groups to complete this activity.

  • A Russian cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov, became the first human to take a "space walk." (1965)
  • America's first space shuttle, the Columbia, was launched. (1981)
  • Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. (1968)
  • Astronauts drove a rover on the moon's surface. (1971)
  • John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in a space ship. (1962)
  • Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Jr., became the first men to walk on the moon. (1969)
  • Russian cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov returned to Earth after a record-setting 438-day mission aboard the space station. (1995)
  • Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly into space. (1961)
  • Sally Ride became the first American woman astronaut to fly in space. (1983)
  • Surveyor 1 became the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. (1966)
  • The Soviet Union proved that animals could live in space by launching Laika, a dog, into space. (1957)
  • The space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launching. (1986)
  • U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss took the longest spacewalk ever -- 8 hours 56 minutes. (2001)


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the students' news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    National Standards

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.4 Earth and Space Science

    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.4 Earth and Space Science

    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science

    See recent news stories in Education World's News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
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