The story

How long will it be before visiting space will be as common an event as boarding a flight to Spain?  And will we be holidaying on Mars rather than Marbella in the future?

With the opening of the world’s first runway for commercial spaceflights at the end of last week, it seems that space tourism will very soon be science fact rather than fiction.

Virgin boss, Richard Branson announced that the first commercial space flight will take place in around 18 months and there has been no shortage of interest despite a ticket costing $200 000.

Teaching ideas

This exciting new venture can be used as a way of engaging students in many different lessons.

Show students this animation of the flight and ask them to describe the changes in forces and draw force diagrams for the aircraft at various stages.  Can they explain why the engines were turned off as soon as the aircraft reached space?

They can be asked to describe what it might be like to experience this flight – how will the changes in forces affect the people inside?

There is also scope here to sketch distance time or velocity time graphs for this flight (which only lasts 6 minutes but the real thing will be 3.5 hours).

The video shows a period of weightlessness.   This can be used to address the misconception that this is because of a lack of gravity.

Stephen Hawking has already tried out being weightless before his flight into space.

Environmental issues can also be discussed – do they think we should be developing technology like this when our oil supplies are running out?  What is the carbon footprint of this trip?  Information about this can be found on Virgin Galactic’s website (see weblink below).

Just discussing the story could be a great starter to any lesson on space.  Ask the students if they would like to take the trip and why.  Would they be worried about safety issues?  How much training do you think you need before you go?  What space tourism stories will they be hearing about in 10, 20, 50 years time?

Teaching resource

Most of the ideas above would only be suitable for KS4/5 classes but this story can also be used with younger students.  What about using the story and video as an introduction to a lesson on space tourism?   A lesson that I have used many times with year 7 students is to ask them to describe what it would be like to holiday on different planets in the Solar System.

This space tourism PowerPoint gives them information on how to complete this task.  Students need to do their own research on their planet using the internet or books before writing a postcard home.  There are a lot of opportunities for students to show their understanding about the Solar System in this task and so is easily differentiated by outcome.

Weblinks

Virgin Galactic’s website.  Lots of information, images and videos

News story about the runway opening

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