Question Sheet: Return to Space


Before reading:

  1. Is space travel dangerous? Why or why not?
  2. What does NASA stand for? What does this government agency do?

During reading:

  1. To what does STS-114 refer? See Why is this particular space mission important?
  2. “Movies make space travel seem routine,” Beutel says. “It’s anything but that.” Why does Beutel say this?
  3. Why did the space shuttle Columbia break apart when it was returning to Earth 2 years ago? How have engineers tried to make sure that a Columbia-type disaster won’t happen again?
  4. Describe several ways in which NASA has improved the chances of detecting damage that might occur during launch.
  5. What role could the International Space Station play in case of a shuttle emergency?
  6. How many space shuttle flights will it take to complete the International Space Station?

After reading:

  1. Would you ever consider becoming an astronaut? Why or why not?
  2. Space exploration could continue without people traveling in spaceships. Make a chart identifying the advantages and disadvantages of unmanned versus manned space exploration.
  3. What do you think NASA’s space program will be like in 20 years? Why? See
  4. What can scientists do on a space station that they are unable to do in a single mission aboard a space shuttle? Come up with three projects that would require the use of a space station.
  5. How do you think people in the United States view the space program? Create a poll that would explore attitudes to space travel, including whether it’s worth doing and worth the risk. The poll should include eight to 10 questions, and you should survey at least 30 people.
  6. If another space shuttle disaster were to occur, how might such a disaster change the future of the space program?


Which countries have helped with the development of the International Space Station. See (NASA). Pick one country (other than the United States) involved with the International Space Station and describe what this country has contributed to the effort.


  1. Find and interview someone who remembers the Challenger disaster. Write an article about what this person experienced on that day. Where was the person when he or she first heard the news about the disaster? How did the disaster affect him or her?
  2. Suppose you were a reporter covering the relaunch of the space shuttle. Come up with five questions that you would ask of people at NASA about methods used to make space flight safer.


When it’s time for the space shuttle to come in for a landing, it needs to reenter Earth’s atmosphere at the right time and place so that it can land successfully at the designated landing strip. Depending on the shuttle’s altitude, its burn must occur for the correct length of time for the shuttle to begin its descent at the right speed and in the correct location. The shuttle keeps going in the same direction but slows down due to the drag on the spacecraft as it enters the atmosphere.

Suppose there’s is a change of 1 mile for every 2 feet per second change in velocity when the shuttle is below a 500-mile altitude above Earth. Determine the change in velocity that the shuttle will need to make if it is at an altitude of 220 miles above Earth and needs to drop to an altitude of 60 miles.