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NASA's Twin Study: Launching Science Lessons

NASA is in the midst of an unprecedented and fascinating study involving twins, and astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. In order for NASA's Journey to Mars to come to fruition, we need to understand a lot more about the effects of long term space exploration on the human body. A round trip to Mars would most likely be a three year trip. 

Fortunately, NASA has a wonderful opportunity with the Kelly brothers. Mark Kelly, now retired from an accomplished career at NASA, will remain on Earth, while his twin brother Scott will spend a year in the International Space Station. Throughout the year the twins will both be monitored and the results compared to determine the effect of extended periods of time in zero gravity. For a quick overview of the twin study check out this video: What You Need To Know About NASA's Twin Study. Posted by Popular Science on Monday, August 17, 2015

There are many opportunities for education using the NASA twin study as a launching point. The most obvious ones have to do with space travel and NASA has you covered for educational resources. Check out their educators page for a wealth of lessons, activities and free materials. 

Scott Kelly image: NASA

Using the twin study as a launching point, here is a round-up of activities for the human body, genetics and biology, astronomy and physics for Pre-K through High School:

How about using the twin study as an introduction to human physiology lessons? How does zero-gravity affect the skeleton? The muscular system? How do these systems work anyway?
  • Super Skeletons, Pre-K - 8th grade (Scholastic Instructor) Build a bone model and more!
  • Supporting Structures, 1st-6th grade (National Space Biomedical Research Institute) How do animals support themselves when gravity is present?
  • Space Stations- Sponge Spool Spines, K-7th grade (Lunar and Planetary Institute) Simulate what happens to the human spine in space.
  • Train Like an Astronaut! All ages (NASA) A series of physical activity exercises using graphing and data collection skills, where kids mimic astronaut training.
  • Gravity and Muscles, 1st-6th grade (National Space Biomedical Research Institute) How the body adjusts to the force of gravity to stay balanced.
Twins Mark (L) and Scott (R) Kelly. image: NASA

Twins! What are the genetics behind this phenomena? How can we investigate genes and DNA?
  • Twins! 6th-8th grade (Discovery Education) An overview of the genetics of twins.
  • Introduction to Heritable Traits, 1st-6th grade (University of Utah) Basics of genetics and traits, several fun activities.
  • Make a DNA Model, 3rd-9th grade (American Museum of Natural History) Learn about DNA while constructing a model
  • What sort? 3rd-9th grade (University of Nebraska State Museum) Learn to sort and organize chromosomes just like genetic scientists do!
Scott Kelly preparing for a year on the ISS. image: NASA
So what is the deal with gravity anyway?
  • Gravity in Action, 1st-6th grade (Try Science) Experiment with the effects of gravity on a slow falling object using parachutes.
  • What Goes Up..., Pre-K-3rd grade (Center of Science and Industry) A simple gravity lesson using toys.
What are some of the characteristics of space? What is it like in the International Space Station?
  • Life in Space: The International Space Station, 3rd-5th grade (Teach Engineering) Several different activities to get students thinking about life on the space station.
  • Zoom: Travel to a Star and Back to Earth, 6th-High School (Center of Science and Industry) An online simulation takes you to a star and back. By adjusting speed and distance parameters students learn about the passage of time in space and on Earth with the theory of relativity.  
  • Tour of International Space Station video:

Find other great videos like these for teaching science in my post: "10 Tried and True Videos for Teaching Science"

Additional NASA Resources:

If your kids are nuts about space, this is a great time to check out Groovy Lab in a Box! (affiliate link-see disclosure tab at the top of the page for more info) This award winning monthly STEM activity subscription service delivers hands-on science and engineering activities right to your little "STEMist's" mailbox. This month's box theme is "Lunar Launch" and it's all about rockets, Newton's Third Law: Action - Reaction, potential and kinetic energy associated with rockets, and the history of the Apollo 11 mission - the first lunar landing of the lunar module "Eagle" in 1969. Check it out here:

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