WELCOME TO THE LAUNCH PAD!
Here you will find recorded interactive webinars with NASA Engineers, Al Menendez about Space Exploration and Marc Bulter about Astronomy. You'll learn about the history of space flight and its importance today, and finally, explore the world up there by learning about planets, stars, and our moon!
WHY EXPLORE SPACE?
Space is mysterious. We explore space for many reasons, not least because we don’t know what is out there, it is vast, and humans are full of curiosity. Each time we send explorers into space, we learn something we didn’t know before. We discover a little more of what is there. When you are on a hike, have you ever wondered what lies around the next bend in the trail, or beyond the next ridge, or down in the valley below? If so, then you will understand the thrill of sending a spacecraft to a world no human has ever seen.
Space has beckoned us, from early observers such as the Aztecs, Greeks, and Chinese; to 15th-century seafarers like Christopher Columbus and 17th-century astronomers including Galileo Galilei; to today’s Boy Scouts. The stars and planets in the sky have helped us shape our beliefs, tell time, guide our sailing ships, make discoveries, invent devices, and learn about our world. When electricity, airplanes, rockets, and computers came on the scene, some people realized it would be possible to put machines and people into space. No longer would we be limited to observing the wonders of space from the ground. Now we could enter and explore this curious environment. The “final frontier” could be opened. However, it proved complicated and expensive to build a rocket to put objects into orbit around the Earth. In the mid-20th century, only two countries had the knowledge, workforce, and money to do it—the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union showed its might by launching a small sphere into orbit. The Soviets’ success with Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957, began the “space race” between the two countries and launched the Space Age.
For more than 10 years, the United States and the Soviet Union competed by launching vehicles, animals, and people into space. The United States achieved its goal of landing men on the Moon by the end of the 1960s. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union built space stations to have a permanent presence in space.
We learned many new things from space missions focusing on science and education. Astronauts collected rocks from the Moon and did medical and scientific experiments above Earth’s atmosphere. Robotic spacecraft visited other planets. People watched on television as an astronaut hit a golf ball on the Moon and when a rover sniffed at a Martian rock. Space looked like fun!
Some business people looked beyond the fun and adventure of space exploration. They saw space as a chance to make money and satisfy society’s needs. The commercial satellite industry blossomed in the 1980s and into the 1990s, when constellations of satellites began to provide increasingly affordable global coverage.
Today, our ability to place satellites in orbit gives us many benefits. Seeing Earth’s atmosphere from space, meteorologists can forecast weather and warn people of dangerous storms more accurately than ever before. Looking down on the land and the ocean from space, we have found natural resources and seen disturbing evidence of their careless destruction. Communication satellites help tie the world’s population together, carrying video, telephone, computer, and Internet data for individuals, schools, governments, and businesses.
ALL ABOUT ROCKETS!
PARTS OF A ROCKET
The body tube is the barrel of the rocket. It holds the engine, the recovery device, and the payload. The rocket’s fins and launch lug are mounted to the body tube.
The engine mount is a small tube that is glued to the inside of the body tube. The engine mount provides a sturdy place for inserting the rocket engine.
Rocket fins are the main stability device of the rocket. Their function is similar to that of feathers on an arrow.
Igniters are small wires that are inserted into the nozzle of a rocket engine. When electricity is passed through the wire, the wire heats, and chemicals coating the wire ignite. This, in turn, ignites the rocket engine. The igniter wires are blasted out the nozzle when the engine propellants start burning.
Before fins can stabilize a rocket, the rocket must be moving through the air. The launch lug is a small straw mounted to the side of the body tube. The lug slides over the rod on the launchpad, and the rod stabilizes the rocket until the fins are able to take over (which happens in a fraction of a second).
The nose cone is fitted at the upper end of the rocket. Its purpose is to divide the air smoothly so the rocket can travel through the air with little turbulence. Nose cones are usually tapered to a point.
Payloads that can be carried on model-rocket flights include small cameras, radio transmitters, and raw eggs. Payloads carried on space rockets include satellites, spacecraft bound for other planets, scientific experiments, and astronauts.
Model rockets can be recovered in many ways. Recovery systems may be parachutes that are stored inside the body tube and ejected automatically by the rocket engine near the time the rocket reaches its maximum altitude. Streamers also are used for recovery. They slow the rocket as it falls back to Earth. Other recovery systems are helicopter-type rotors or wings for gliding landings.
The rocket engine is the power plant of your model rocket. An engine consists of a
cylinder, called the casing , that holds the solid propellant. The upper end of the casing
usually has a plug and the lower end has a nozzle . The nozzle is a small opening through
which the burning gases escape. The nozzle makes the gases travel at high speeds when
they exit, much the same way the nozzle on a garden hose makes water squirt farther
when the hole is smaller.
Inside the engine are the solid propellants. The propellants have oxygen built into their
chemistry. This enables them to burn even in outer space, where there is no outside
oxygen. (Rocket engines are different from jet engines. Jet engines must take in air from
the atmosphere to burn their fuel.)
Click on Me to Open!
Space exploration has been a reality since the late 1950s. Space-age words such as rocket, satellite , and orbit have become part of nearly everyone’s vocabulary. While many people use these words, few really understand the important concepts behind them, such as how a rocket works, how a satellite stays in orbit, or how pictures taken of other planets arrive on Earth.
PHYSICAL LAWS OF SPACE FLIGHT
In the 17th century, a great English mathematician and scientist named Sir Isaac Newton developed the basics of modern physics. He formed the theories of gravitation when he was only 23 years old. Some 20 years later, he presented his three laws of motion. These three laws explain how a rocket is able to work and how satellites and spacecraft are able to get into orbit and stay there.
NEWTON'S THREE LAWS OF MOTION
An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless the object is acted upon by an outside unbalanced force.
Force equals mass times acceleration.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
These three laws of motion help make it easier to understand how rockets, satellites, and spacecraft work.
HOW ROCKETS ARE PROPELLED
Rockets are driven by engines that obey Newton’s three laws of motion. While a rocket sits on the launchpad, it is in a state of rest because all forces are balanced. When the rocket engine fires, forces become unbalanced (first law). As exhaust rushes downward out of the engine, an upward thrust is produced because of action-reaction (third law). The strength of that thrust is determined by the amount of matter expelled by the engine and how fast the matter is expelled (second law). Forcing the exhaust through a small opening called a nozzle increases the speed of the exhaust, producing more thrust. Imagine using a garden hose with a nozzle attachment. With the nozzle wide open, the water streams out and lands a few feet away. By shrinking the nozzle opening, you force the water to move faster and it lands farther away. The greater the velocity, the greater the thrust. You can feel the thrust of the garden hose if you hold it. The same principle applies to rocket engines, which come in many varieties based on the type of fuel used. Some types of engines used on today’s spacecraft include solid propellant engines, liquid propellant engines, hybrid engines, and ion engines. Nuclear engines, solar sails, mass drivers, and other kinds of “futuristic” engines are being studied or developed. For Scouts BSA/Venturing youth, learn more about engines in the Space Exploration Merit Badge Pamphlet.
WEBINAR WITH NASA ENGINEER
Watch the webinar with NASA Engineer, Al Menendez! Al discusses space flight, rockets, and so much more. NOTE: there is no presentation for the first two minutes as we waited for participants to get into the meeting.
Engineer Al Menendez is an Avionics Test Engineer for NASA. Avionics Test
Engineers design, develop, and test aircraft and spacecraft avionic
instrumentation. They also conduct research to address problems associated
with flight safety systems, landing gear and electronic navigation systems. Al
and his team work specifically on the Commercial Crew Program which is a
partnership to develop and fly human space transportation systems. Sound
familiar? The Commerical Crew Program in partnership with SpaceX launched U.S. astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time on May 27, 2020!
There are so many exciting things to see in the night sky. Thousands of stars,
constellations, the Milky Way, planets, the moon, satellites, airplanes, and birds are
above your head every night. We can see old stars dying and exploding. We can see
meteor showers, or shooting stars. Sometimes it is rare to see some of these sights.
But on any clear night of the year, you usually can see the Moon and a dazzling array
of stars. Did you know that the sky changes as the seasons change? The earth rotates
and tilts back and forth. This makes the night sky different in each season.
THE WORLD UP THERE
THE MOON - OUR NEAREST NEIGHBOR
The Moon was humankind’s first target in exploration beyond Earth. People first studied the
Moon with just their eyes, then with Earth-based telescopes, then with robots in space. In 1968,
explorers flew to the Moon and studied it from orbit. The following year, U.S. astronauts landed on
the Moon and brought back rock and soil samples. Several times between 1969 and 1972, U.S.
astronauts explored the lunar surface and left behind scientific instruments to help scientists learn
more about Earth’s natural satellite. A few robotic probes have studied the Moon in the decades since,
but the Moon remains a fascinating place with many unanswered questions.
Did you know?
Even though one side of the Moon always faces away from Earth, both the near side and the far side of the Moon receive the same amounts of sunlight.There really is no “dark side of the Moon."
THE SUN & STARS
The Sun is a huge ball of hot gas about 93 million miles from Earth. It contains 99.86 percent of the mass of the entire solar system. If you imagine the Earth as the size of a grape, then the Sun is about 5 feet high—the size of a small refrigerator. The Sun is made mainly of hydrogen and helium. Energy is released at the Sun’s core as hydrogen changes into helium during nuclear fusion reactions. Every second, the Sun converts 564 million tons of hydrogen into 560 million tons of helium. Four million tons of matter are released as energy the Sun radiates into the solar system.
THE SUN AND EARTH'S WEATHER
The Sun’s energy drives weather and climate on Earth. It burns off Earth’s moisture by evaporation, heats the atmosphere, and creates wind when one air mass becomes hotter than another. Clouds condense from water vapor that has evaporated from the oceans, and rain from these clouds returns water to the oceans.
THE REASONS FOR OUR SEASONS
Earth has seasons because of its tilted axis, which keeps the northern hemisphere tipped toward the Sun for half the year and away for the other half. The northern hemisphere gets more direct sunlight in summer, and less sunlight six months later in winter. Thus, our region receives and retains less heat from the Sun during the winter.
VIEWING THE SUN
Never view the Sun directly; your eyesight is too precious to risk. Telescope filters are not recommended because you are still looking in the Sun’s direction, so part of your line of vision falls outside the telescope lens. Also, filters can shatter, leaving the eyes unprotected, which can blind the observer instantly. View the Sun only by projection.
Stars are divided into color categories, from hottest to relatively coolest: blue and blue-white, white, yellow, orange, and red. Stars are referred to this way because they appear to be these colors when observed through a telescope.
Blue and Blue-White Stars. The hottest of all stars appear blue or blue-white. Their temperatures range from 18,000 degrees F to more than 45,000 degrees F. An example of a hot, blue-white star is Rigel in Orion.
White Stars. White stars have temperatures from 13,500 degrees F to about 18,000 degrees F. Sirius in Canis Major— the brightest star in our sky (not counting our sun)—is a white star.
Yellow Stars. Yellow stars are cooler, at temperatures of about 9,000 to 13,500 degrees F. The Sun is a yellow star, and so is Capella in Auriga.
Orange Stars. Orange stars are between 6,000 and 9,000 degrees F. Arcturus in Boötes is an orange star.
Red Stars. Red stars, the “coolest,” are cooler than 6,000 degrees F. One of the brightest stars, Betelgeuse, is a red star.
Brightness is not measured the same way as color. Just because a star is not as hot as others does not mean it is not as bright. A bright star is not necessarily large, either. Some of the brightest stars are smaller than other, fainter stars. A star’s brightness in our sky depends on its actual brightness or luminosity and its distance from us. A star may appear bright in our sky either because it is genuinely very bright or because it is relatively close to Earth.
WHAT ABOUT PLANETS?
The planets of our solar system travel around the Sun, each in its own orbit. The four planets closest to the Sun—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars—are called the terrestrial (earthlike) planets because they have solid, rocky surfaces. The four large planets beyond the orbit of Mars—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune— are the gas giants, made mostly of hydrogen and helium, probably with no solid surfaces.
Five planets are visible from Earth with the unaided eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Uranus may be dimly viewed on very clear nights, but only with powerful telescopes can we view Neptune even faintly. Planets do not twinkle like stars do. Planets have a constant light. This is a good way to figure out whether you are looking at a star or a planet.
Mercury is hard to see because it is always close to the sun. It is never seen in a fully dark,
nighttime sky. It is visible only in bright twilight, either very low in the western sky just after sunset or very
low in the east just before sunrise. Late winter and early spring are usually the best times for observers in the
northern hemisphere to spot tiny Mercury in the evening sky, about half an hour after sunset. To find it in the
early morning sky, about half an hour before sunrise, look in the direction of sunrise during the late summer and fall.
Venus is white and very bright. When Venus can be seen, it is always right after sunset or right before sunrise, near the horizon. Venus also appears only in the early evening or early morning sky, but it is much easier to see than Mercury. Sometimes called the morning or the evening star, diamondwhite and brilliant Venus is our solar system’s brightest planet. If Venus is in the evening sky, you can’t miss it.
Mars often looks red in the night sky. Mars is called the Red Planet with good reason, but its brightness varies. Check its position in an astronomical almanac or guidebook.
Jupiter is bright yellow. Among the planets, Jupiter is second only to Venus for brightness. Its progress across the sky can seem so slow that you might mistake it for a star unless you track its movement for several nights.
Saturn is also yellow but not as bright as Jupiter. You will not see Saturn’s famous rings with the unaided eye, but the planet is bright enough to find. Like Jupiter, Saturn takes a long time to show movement, so consult an almanac or guidebook before scanning the heavens for it.
Did you know?
Uranus is barely visible to the naked eye under even good viewing conditions. It moves very slowly, so to the unaided eye it looks like an average star. Through a telescope it appears pale green
Our word for planet comes from the ancient Greek words asteres planetai, which means "wandering stars." The Greeks knew thousands of years ago that the planets slowly moved across the sky over time. If you look at the planets often, you may notice that they change their position in the sky a little bit every day.
WEBINAR WITH NASA ENGINEER
Engineer Marc Butler is an Avionics Systems Engineer for NASA. Avionics Systems Engineers design and develop aircraft and spacecraft avionic instrumentation. They also conduct research to address problems associated with flight safety systems, landing gear and electronic navigation systems. Marc and his team work specifically on the Commercial Crew Program which is a partnership to develop and fly human space transportation systems. Sound familiar? The Commerical Crew Program in partnership with SpaceX launched U.S. astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time on May 27, 2020! Check out the photos of Marc on launch day with his mission patch!
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