STEM through the lens
Chances are you’ve seen this photograph before—maybe on a T-shirt, on a billboard, or in a TV ad. The “Blue Marble Shot” has been reprinted more than any other photograph in history. It was taken on December 7, 1972, by one of the three Apollo 17 astronauts on their way to the Moon. But no one knows which astronaut took the picture because all three claimed to have been the photographer.
During the few minutes Apollo 17 flew across the place in space located directly between the Sun and Earth (which was 28,000 miles away), no one should have been looking out of the window as they all had important tasks to do. But, obviously, someone, and perhaps everyone, was looking out. One of them grabbed a camera and clicked the shutter four times.
After Apollo 17 returned to Earth, the picture was published on the front page of newspapers all over the world. For the first time ever, people saw the full planet Earth completely flooded in sunshine. Heavy clouds swirled over vast oceans. The African coastline was clearly visible, with its northeastern edge fitting like a puzzle piece with the Arabian Peninsula. Madagascar, the fourth largest island on Earth, was slightly off center, looking like a slipper floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And because the photo was taken just two weeks before the winter solstice, Earth’s southern hemisphere was tilted toward the sun, revealing Antarctica. For the first time ever, the south polar ice caps appeared in a photo.
The mystery of who took the picture has never been solved. The commander of the mission, Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon, says he snapped the picture. But would the commander have had the time to take the photo at that critical point of the flight? Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the first geologist sent to the moon, also swears that he took the picture. Perhaps that makes sense because he was responsible for making scientific observations. Ron Evans, who died in 1990, also claimed that he took the picture.
No one will ever know for sure who took the Blue Marble Shot. But the words of Commander Eugene Cernan describe what he saw out of his spaceship window “…you can look out the window and you're looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens— the most beautiful because it's the one we understand and we know, it's home, it's people, family, love, life —and besides that, it is beautiful. ”
In Alex's book Cars on Mars you can follow the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity explore the Red Planet. Learn how scientists determined that there was once water on Mars and how the earthbound NASA team resolved problems with the rovers from afar in order to prolong the mission, which continues today. For more information, click here.
Alex is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 CItation
Siy, Alexandra. "Mystery of the Blue Marble." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Mystery-of-the-Blue-Marble.
The Explainer General
In 1961 the United States was losing the Space Race with the USSR. Our best rockets were blowing up on the launch pads.
But on January 31, 1961, we were ready to send our first astronaut into space on a long, high arc. He was only three feet tall. His name was Number 65. (If the rocket blew up, a “named” animal would sound bad in the news . . ) When asked by radio, 65 would press sequences of buttons on the flight control panel, then receive a banana pellet reward.
The blast off from Cape Canaveral (now Cape Kennedy) wasn’t perfect. The Redstone rocket didn’t blow up, but the launch damaged the passenger pod’s hull. Also, the controls didn’t shut off on time and pushed the rocket much higher, much faster than planned. Ham traveled at 5,800 miles an hour, and reached a then-record high of 155 miles! This put his reentry landing far beyond the U.S. Navy ships sent to retrieve him. The pod splashed into the ocean, but water poured into the damaged pod. 65 was sinking! Two hours later a helicopter picked up the passenger pod just in time.
65 was a hero, so he was given a proper name: Ham. He appeared on the cover of magazines and newspapers as our first man—er, chimp— in space!
In only a few months human astronauts followed Ham’s lead. Alan Shepard and John Glenn rocketed into space and Ham was forgotten. He was given to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he lived for 17 years, alone. He was trained as an astronaut and didn’t get along with jungle animals. His keepers noticed that he often lay on his back and punched in imaginary button sequences, as if he were still flying the capsule. The old chimponaut became lonely and depressed.
Ham was sent to a special “show animal” camp where he could reconnect with his wild brothers and sisters. He was taken to Andrews Air Force Base for the trip. As he was walked across the concrete something wonderful happened. He passed between two lines of Air National Guard pilots, saluting Ham. Ham the brave Chimponaut finally got his honor parade.
Ham lived 3 happy years at the camp and died peacefully in 1983. You can see a plaque for Ham at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico. It says:
He proved that mankind could live and work in space.
Adkins new book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents.
ML 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Chimponaut: A Hero Forgotten and Remembered." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/chimponaut:-a-hero-forgotten-and-remembered.
Nonfiction is the New Black
In 1983, shortly before she became America’s first female astronaut to participate in a mission, Sally Ride faced a press conference. Reporters raised questions they would never have asked a man. “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” one inquired. “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” queried another. A third wondered, “Will you wear makeup and a bra in space?” Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked that the flight was delayed because Sally had to find a purse that matched her shoes.
It wasn’t just U.S. media. The Soviet Union had already sent two women into space. When one of them arrived at the space station, a male cosmonaut (the Soviet term for astronauts) said, “An apron is waiting for you in the kitchen.”
By this point, Sally had mastered parachute jumping, water survival, coping with weightlessness and the massive G-forces from a rocket launch, and other highly demanding skills. She flew jet planes. She had a Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford, one of the nation’s top universities. She helped develop a robotic arm for use on the space shuttle. She was a nationally ranked tennis player who decided not to turn pro because she preferred science.
The general public seemed more accepting. On launch day at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, thousands of people wore “Ride, Sally, Ride!” T-shirts, from the lyrics of the pop song “Mustang Sally.”
The mission went flawlessly, and Sally flew again the following year. She was scheduled for a third flight in 1986, but it was scrubbed when the Challenger space shuttle blew up.
Sally left the space program soon afterward. She was passionate about encouraging young people—especially girls—to become involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Here are some of the things she did toward that achieving that goal.
Sadly, Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 61. Shortly afterward, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
To find information on many of Jim Whiting's books, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "'Ride, Sally, Ride!'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 May
Stories that Surprise and Inspire
When musicians play a lively tune, they often find themselves spontaneously tapping their toes and moving about to the pulsing beat. But when Ellen Ochoa played her flute at work one day in 1993, she couldn’t be spontaneous at all. If she hadn’t made careful plans, she could have been blown about the room, just by playing one long note on her flute. That’s because she was an astronaut working on the U.S. Space Shuttle as it circled Earth more than a hundred miles out in space.
Gravity is so weak far out in space that astronauts—and any of their gear that isn’t fastened down—will float about inside a space craft. Blowing air into her flute could have created enough force to actually send Ochoa zipping about the space shuttle cabin. So, to keep herself in place as she played, she had to slip her feet into strong loops attached to the floor.
Dr. Ochoa, now the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, was the first U.S. astronaut to bring a flute on a space mission, but she wasn’t the first to make music in space. Nearly thirty years earlier, in December 1965, two astronauts onboard the Gemini 6 space craft played a musical joke on mission control officials down on Earth. Those astronauts—Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Thomas P. Stafford—told mission control that they saw an unusual object near their spaceship, a satellite perhaps, moving from North to South. They said they would try to pick up some sound from this mysterious object. Then they used the harmonica and bells they had secretly brought with them on that December mission to surprise folks listening down below by playing “Jingle Bells.”
In recent years, other astronauts have brought musical instruments on space missions to help lift their spirits, especially those who spend many months on the International Space Station. Like Dr. Ochoa, these astronaut musicians have to make adjustments, such as using a bungee cord to attach an electronic piano keyboard to a pianist’s leg.
Some astronauts have composed music in space, including Canadian Chris Hadfield. On May 6, 2013, he sang the song he wrote—called “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)”—in a live TV broadcast from the space station as thousands of Canadian schoolchildren sang along with him down on Earth. Click here for a recording of that space-to-Earth performance
Learning to play an instrument can be fun and, at times, frustrating. Amy Nathan's lively book helps young people cope with the difficulties involved in learning a new instrument and remaining dedicated to playing and practicing. Teens from renowned music programs - including the Juilliard School's Pre-College Program and Boston University's Tanglewood Institute - join pro musicians in offering practical answers to questions from what instrument to play to where the musical road may lead. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "Music That's Out of This World." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 11 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Do you ever feel spaced-out before you take a test? Yes or no, let’s go!
1. TRUE or FALSE?
It’s possible for a spacecraft to fly from Earth to Venus, to Mars, back to Earth, then to Saturn, out to Pluto, back to Jupiter, and come home to Earth on one tank of fuel.
2. It’s possible for a spacecraft to fly all over the solar system on one tank of fuel because of:
a. the sling-shot effect
b. gravity assist
d. all of the above
e. none of the above
The sling-shot effect, also known as a swing-by or gravity assist, is used to accelerate a spacecraft. Acceleration means to change the speed and/or the direction of a moving body. A spacecraft that is speeding up, slowing down, or following a curved path is accelerating.
Gravity accelerates objects everywhere in the Universe. When you ride your bike up a hill it takes a lot of effort to make it to the top because the Earth is massive compared to you, and gravity pulls you toward its center. When you coast down the other side, gravity is your friend!
Spacecraft can use the gravity of a planet to accelerate. Picture a spacecraft falling toward a planet. The spacecraft will crash unless it steers away.
3. As a spacecraft accelerates toward a planet, the motion of the planet is also affected by the gravity exerted by:
a. the spacecraft
b. the Sun
c. cosmic rays
d. both (a) and (b)
e. both (b) and (c)
f. all of the above
g. none of the above
All bodies in space, no matter how big or small, exert gravity on each other. Planets stay in orbit around the sun because of gravity. A planet is also affected by the tiny mass of a spacecraft. Gravity assist was used to increase the speed of Voyager 1 by 36,000 mph on its swing by Jupiter, which sling shot it to Saturn. And Jupiter slowed down infinitesimally, at a rate of 12 inches per one trillion years.
4. The person who discovered the math for using gravity assist to accelerate a spacecraft from planet to planet to planet…was:
a. Aristotle (384 B.C. to 322 B.C)
b. Galileo (1564-1642)
c. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
d. Katherine Johnson (1918- )
e. Michael Minovitch (1936- )
END OF TEST!
DON’T STOP WORKING.
GO TO THE LIBRARY TO FIND THE ANSWERS.
In this drawing a spacecraft gets an assist from Jupiter as it "slingshots" toward Saturn. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 used gravity assist to fly by the outer planets. Image courtesy of NASA
The twin Voyagers have no people on board on their interstellar journey, but carry The Golden Record, which contains messages, music, and pictures from Earth. Image courtesy of NASA/Alexandra Siy
In case you didn't make it to the library: In 1961, UCLA graduate student Michael Minovitch used math and the new IBM 7090-7094 computers to invent gravity assist trajectories for space flight. Used with permission of Michael Minovitch
Alexandra Siy's Voyager's Greatest Hits tells the story of the twin space probes that traveled to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, a journey beyond our solar system into interstellar space, where no probe has ventured before. Siy tells the fascinating story of how the Voyager probes work, where the probes have been and what they’ve seen, and what they carry on board.
Alexandra Siy is also a member of Authors on Call. You can bring her to your classroom via interactive videoconferencing and learn more from her and ask her questions. To find out more go here.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "Spaced Out." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 2 May 2018,