Closing the distance between the International Space Station and the classroom


Celebrating eight new lesson plans from Microsoft Education in partnership with NASA



Recently, my mom gave me a box of papers from my childhood, and I discovered—preserved among the mementos, letters and drawings—a copy of Time Magazine’s “To The Moon Special Supplement” (July 18, 1969) and the front section of the New York Times from July 20, 1969. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten these treasures.

I spent the four days before the moon landing binge-watching TV anchors and their guest experts’ scientific explanations and animated simulations. As a middle schooler, I had done my best to absorb and unpack the vast number of details that were discussed. Within the first day it was clear—this context was necessary to interpret the constant stream of readings, measurements and color commentary in the exchanges between the astronauts and Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

Each step of the astronaut’s journey was a risk, and by Sunday the 20th, Earth-bound armchair explorers the world over were already exhausted. In four days, we had watched with bated breath as the Saturn V rocket launched, multiple Apollo modules were shed, the communications blackouts passed, the astronauts successfully positioned themselves in the moon’s orbit and, at last, they flawlessly landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon’s surface.

Author smiling at the camera and holding a news article

That Sunday evening, I became one of the estimated 650 million people worldwide who watched the live feed of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descending from the lunar module onto the surface of the moon. When the exterior camera went live, I remember struggling to pick out any human form within the grainy, black-and-white broadcast image.

And then, there it was, Neil Armstrong’s left boot dangling from the ladder. In that moment, I was overcome by the wonder of what I was witnessing. I also realized that there was now a real possibility that humans could live in space.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the moon walk, the 20th anniversary of humans living continuously aboard the International Space Station and the inaugural launch of NASA’s commercial crew program, it is hard to remember that not long ago many of these ideas were science fiction. We often forget that some of our everyday technologies like satellite television, infrared cameras and fire-resistant foam were developed by NASA to aid in the execution of these historic milestones. Research and exploration have always been at the heart of the space program. The launch of the International Space Station established an orbiting laboratory dedicated to studying how humans could live in space, testing advanced technologies for future explorations and understanding more about the Earth. Unlike my experience 50 years ago, we now have instantaneous access to live views of Earth, live maps to track the station’s orbit and, of course, real-time access to the astronauts via their social media channels. For today’s students, the distance between the low-orbit lab and the classroom grows smaller as their probability of spending time in space increases.

To inspire and engage your students, Microsoft Education and NASA have partnered to develop eight new lesson plans to introduce the considerations astronauts need to think about when living in space. The collection of standards-aligned, middle and high school materials integrates core academic concepts with hands-on experiences. Students are challenged to design in 3D, analyze data, build sensors, use virtual reality and work with a machine learning and AI module while engaging in discussions about the challenges of living in space.

Included in the collection are:

  • Two design challenges: The “Astro Socks” project has students investigate solutions to reduce the impact of working in microgravity on astronauts’ feet, while the other challenges students to work in 3D to build their own modules for the International Space Station.
  • A lesson that introduces the phenomenon of microgravity that incorporates hands-on experiments and a virtual-reality experience.
  • Four data-collection and analysis lessons that engage your students with hands-on experiments, to prove the ideal gas law, measure radiation in our environment and examine the light waves and frequencies within the electromagnetic spectrum. They’ll use sensors to capture live data and relate their observations about life in space to their own on Earth.
  • A lesson that introduces the Earth’s biomes through photographs taken from space and challenges them to explore the techniques scientists employ to predict climate change with AI.

50 years ago, I witnessed the possibility of living in space take a “giant leap” towards becoming a reality. As we mark these major space exploration milestones, I hope you will bring this rich collection of educational materials to your classroom to inspire our first generation of commercial space travelers.

Illustration of a sock

Designing Astro Socks to protect astronauts’ feet in microgravity


Using materials science engineering to determine heat resistance


Illustration of tubes

Understanding adiabatic compression and the Ideal gas law


Illustration of wires

What is the electromagnetic spectrum?


Illustration of cup of water

Detecting Alpha, Beta and Gamma Radiation


Illustration of a satellite

Minecraft build challenge: Design your Space Station


Illustration of Earth

Analyzing astronauts’ photos of Earth to predict climate change


Illustration of planets

Experiencing Microgravity by understanding Newton’s 2nd and 3rd laws of motion



For a live demonstration of the lessons we’re sharing at ISTE, tune into “What’s new in EDU” live from ISTE on Monday at 6PM EST on our Microsoft Education facebook channel.

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