Space for research

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Bacteria Can Survive for Years in Space / View Guide

Directions for teachers:

Ask students to read the online Science News article “If bacteria band together, they can survive for years in space” and answer the following questions. Another version of the article, “Bacteria can survive for years in space,” appears in the Sept. 26, 2020 print issue. Each section includes a linked video about the International Space Station that students should watch before answering the questions. Questions in the first section should be answered as a class — the additional resources provided can help you guide the discussion. The final prompt asks students to come up with a research question that could be done in space. Have students pair up to share their research question with their partner.

Additional resources:
NASA article “What Is the International Space Station?
NASA Johnson video “Everything About Living in Space

Did you know that students can develop their ideas and submit research projects to the International Space Station? Check out the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program for more information.

Want to make it a virtual lesson? Post the online Science News article “If bacteria band together, they can survive for years in space” and the additional resources to your virtual classroom. Ask students to answer the questions individually and post their research question to your online discussion board. Finally, have students give feedback on each other’s responses on the discussion board.

Onboard the International Space Station

Watch the video “A Bridge Above: 20 Years of the International Space Station” and answer the following questions as a class.

1. What is the purpose of the International Space Station, or ISS? Why is the ISS important?

The purpose of the ISS is to have an ongoing human presence in space to do research and report findings. The station is important because it allows nations to combine resources and ideas to do research that provides lessons for future space exploration and benefits humans on Earth.

2. Based on the Science News article and the video, what are some countries that are involved in the ISS collaboration?

Japan, the United States and Russia are a few of the countries involved in the collaboration. According to the video, astronauts from more than 100 nations have lived on the station.

3. Brainstorm some challenges and opportunities that astronauts living on the ISS face.

Astronauts living on the ISS get to be on the front lines of new discoveries. But it can be challenging to live away from their families. Astronauts might struggle with sleeping, since the station doesn’t have the same light and dark cues that people do on Earth. Astronauts also might struggle to keep their bodies strong and healthy in microgravity over long periods of time.

Science on the ISS

After watching the video “Fruit Punch and Foam: Managing Liquids in Space,” answer the following questions on your own.

4. What research were scientists doing in the video? Why is the research important?

Scientists were studying how to manage the flow of fluids in space without using any electricity. Based on this research, the scientists innovated a foam to collect liquid that works in microgravity conditions. The foam could be used as a backup system for toilets on the ISS or possibly as a wastewater processing system on future crewed missions to the moon and Mars.   

5. How did the ISS play a key role in the experiment described in the Science News article? What about in the fluidics research featured in the video?

The exterior of the ISS housed Deinococcus bacteria that scientists used in an experiment to see how long the bacteria could survive in outer space. The ISS was crucial in providing a controlled microgravity environment for the fluidics research.

6. How can doing an experiment on board the ISS differ from doing the experiment on Earth? What can scientists learn from doing the same experiment in both places?

Doing an experiment on the ISS is different from doing an experiment on Earth mostly because of the extreme conditions of outer space, including radiation and low gravity. There also are greater physical space and resource constraints on the ISS. People other than the scientists who develop experiments may be the ones to perform the experiments on the ISS, and those people might not be as well versed as the original scientists are in  the various fields of research. Doing experiments both on the ISS and on Earth can allow scientists to study the effects gravity can have on various phenomena, for instance.

7. Use a keyword to search the Space Station Research Explorer website for an ongoing experiment that relates to a concept you are studying or a topic that interests you. Summarize the research. Some possible keyword searches include: bacteria, force, nutrition, combustion, etc.

Student answers will vary.

8. How does the experiment you found compare with the experiment described in the Science News article? Name one similarity and one difference.

Student answers will vary, but they could highlight the field of research, aspects of experimental design, speed of gathering data, etc.

Get involved

After watching the video Space Station Live: Student Experiments Fly to Station, answer the following question. Share and discuss your answer with a partner.

9. Come up with a research question you would like to explore in space. What would be some advantages and challenges of doing your experiment in space?

Student answers will vary.

Did you know that you can develop a research project and submit it to the International Space Station? Ask your teacher for more information if you’re interested!