Sunday, December 18, 2011

NASA Canceled the Space Program, Right?

NASA: The Blue Marble
Since the end of the shuttle program, my students have repeatedly expressed the notion that space exploration is done: "NASA canceled the space program, right?" While I know that's untrue, they do not — and that is very troubling (and eminently frustrating!).

In my classroom, I constantly use supplementary resources from NASA and other US government science organizations to help students understand that we are actively studying the Earth system, the solar system, and beyond every day. Earth science is not a collection of static facts and information, but is a dynamic and ever-evolving field of cutting-edge research. As educators, we need to help students make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and what is happening in the real world—it is not OK to just teach Earth science from a textbook. Like other scientists, NASA scientists are active explorers who continue to expand our knowledge of our own planet and beyond. The good news for us is that we can access a myriad of NASA resources right in the classroom and participate in the exploration:
  • NASA's main website is the logical starting point for the latest news and information about Earth and space. In addition to general information, the site has sections specifically for educators and for students with links to lessons, images, videos, podcasts, simulations, grants, scholarships, and more. We (often) complain about government, but NASA's website has got to be one of the best damn uses of taxpayer money out there.
  • NASA also has a huge variety of resources for iDevices at the NASA App Store. There are apps for exploring planets, finding out about the latest space missions, checking launch dates, and more. Oh, and all the apps are free. The NASA App HD for iPad is simply stunning.
  • Want the latest on climate? NASA's Global Climate Change provides real-time vital signs of our planet. My favorite parts of this site are the links to evidence, causes, effects, and uncertainties. Not only do you have the latest climate data at your fingertips, but the process of climate science itself is eloquently and transparently deconstructed and explained.
  • Need current events about planet Earth? NASA's Earth Observatory has fantastic articles, images of the day, global maps, and in-depth features about our home planet. Their weekly email digest is a must-have resource. Go subscribe today!
  • Need even more up-to-the-minute information? NASA has a fleet of Twitter accounts that provide the latest news from space explorers around the globe and beyond, including live tweets from robotic pioneers in space. A few of my favorites include NASAVoyager and NASAVoyager2, NASAJuno, and NewHorizons2015.
There are tons more NASA resources out there for students, educators, and the curious alike. We need not lament the demise of the space program; it is alive and well, even during these challenging socio-economic times. However, to keep the reality and promise of Earth and space exploration alive and thriving, we need to give our students every opportunity to learn about it and participate in it.

If there is any question about the urgency of science literacy in the 21st century, Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson spend an hour-and-a-half discussing the importance of science and technology in this thoroughly enjoyable video.

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