Do astronauts play just games in space or do they actually work?
February 17, 2013 6:19 PM   Subscribe

What is the best book to introduce pre-teens to how science works in space?

Working with kids as a space educator I am increasingly more aware of misunderstandings about what kids—and adults—imagine 1) how science works and 2) what astronauts do in space. What I am looking for is a selection of books (or resources) that introduce kids to how science works, as well about how what astronauts actually do.

What I want to do is create a list to forward to teachers I work with prior to presenting so young students can begin to develop a solid grasp of how science works and how we use it today in space.
posted by Mike Mongo to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

A good place to start would be the Sunita Williams tour of the ISS, filmed before she left this past fall. It's really kid-friendly and has lots of details about living and working in space.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:09 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is done anymore, and if the program still exists it may be geared more at elementary schoolers. But when I was a kid, there was a NASA program wherein certain school science classes around the country got to participate in some of the experiments the astronauts were going to do on the space shuttle. For instance my brother's 2nd grade class (I was in 4th grade and crazy jealous of this) got to grow tomato plants which would later be brought up in the space shuttle for some of the biological experiments.

Until that point, I had no idea that astronauts did science in space, or really what "doing science" was aside from "experiments", which I think I assumed was like on Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye The Science Guy. Just, like, vinegar and baking soda volcanos and stuff.

Even just being aware of some other class being selected to participate made it obvious to me what astronauts do in space all day, and to an extent how science works.

(I also got better ideas about how this stuff goes down visiting the NASA space/science center in Houston, though that's probably not an option for you unless you happen to be a space educator near a place where NASA has facilities open to the public.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:13 PM on February 17, 2013

The Mary Roach book "Packing for Mars" is about this exact question. Depending on the age of the kids, not all the chapters would be appropriate, but some would.
posted by cushie at 7:15 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hmm. Maybe I should have been more specific about "space educator": By virtue of my work with kids I'm familiar with/utilize everything noted so far. The Sunita Williams tour and Mary Roach's Packing for Mars are two regular "go-to's" (sans the more mature content in Mary Roach's book, of course—though I get some of the answers for mature questions from older kids there, too). And YT is great but—and this I should have definitely specified—I'm looking for reading material. Stuff I can assign, recommend, or distribute.

BTW Sara C. NASA does loads of this sort of outreach, and much of it I must add is voluntary/volunteering on the part of NASA employees, scientists, and contractors. You would be surprised how gung-ho most NASA people are to contribute in this way. So, good news there. Also FYI in case you want something for your own local schools.

Here's a more precise definition of what I looking for: Books or reading material resources that describe the work of astronauts and of doing science in space.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:44 PM on February 17, 2013

Google "Donald Pettit". He was an ISS astronaut who did a lot of writing about experiments in space.

Tom Jones was a shuttle astronaut and wrote a book about training and his missions.

Mike Collins of Apollo 11 wrote Carrying the Fire, which was considered THE book about being an astronaut. But it was about Apollo, so might not be as relevant today. But damn interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:56 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

He doesn't often describe the work, but Commander Hadfield's Twitter stream from the ISS is amazing and awesome, and occasionally does tell about the experiments they're working on up there. (It's worth checking every day for the photos.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:08 PM on February 17, 2013

Response by poster: Brandon, love Carrying The Fire. Also Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell. fingersandtoes, ditto your take on Cmdr Hadfield's tweets, pure twitter streaming awesomeness.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:48 PM on February 18, 2013

Ah, here's Don Pettit's blog from when he aboard the ISS. Lots of potential space education goodness in there.

Mike Mullane's Riding Rockets is very good for training in the Shuttle era, but probably not age appropriate for pre teens, to put it mildly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:27 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just found this very splendid Canadian-made science resource I had missed before. It's heavy on space science too.
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:09 PM on February 19, 2013

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