About the event
The UN General Assembly declared in 1999 that World Space Week would be held each year from October 4th to the 10th. These dates commemorate two events. Firstly, on the 4th of October 1957 Sputnik 1 was launched by the USSR, the first human-made Earth satellite, thus opening the way for space exploration. Secondly, on the 10th of October 1967 the Outer Space Treaty was signed, this ensured a ban on nuclear weapons in space as well as the free and peaceful exploration of space for all nations.
The main aims of World Space Week are:
- Educate people around the world about the benefits that they receive from space
- Encourage greater use of space for sustainable economic development
- Demonstrate public support for space programmes
- Excite young people about science and maths
- Foster international cooperation in space outreach and education.
How to approach it
There are three things you could touch on this week. The first one is to get your students excited about science and technology. We can explore space because of the staggering advances made in both fields over the last 100 years. This is a good week to show students what is possible with ingenuity and the scientific method. For example, you could show students early spacecraft and explain that modern phones far surpass the computing power of early space shuttle computers. Or you could show the original pictures made of the moon and earth compared to those made with the new James Webb Space Telescope.
Secondly, use space to prompt a discussion around values. Space is beautiful, exciting, ancient and vast. Talking about space and our place in it is often helpful for giving us perspective about our lives. Although humanity is a tiny blip in space and time, we are, along with the rest of the natural world, a rare and wonderful occurrence. You could explore these themes in a number of ways such as reading figures about the size of space, running a deep time exercise where you start from the big bang and work up to the current day. Additionally, as the Outer Space Treaty reveals, space helps us think about what we want for Earth. If for example, the best model for space exploration is peaceful cooperation and legal checks on any one nation claiming sovereignty- shouldn’t this also be a good model for how we run our affairs on Earth?
Finally, for older students you could introduce a critical perspective to space week by bringing in discussions around economic justice, climate change and the allocation of resources. For billionaires such as Elon Musk building bases on Mars and mining asteroids are seen as solutions to problems of resource depletion and the various crises gripping Earth. However, it could be argued that the large resources and emissions associated with space exploration could be better used to tackle problems on Earth- thus making the planet a safer place to live, without needing to find a new home. Help students to weigh up what is good and bad about space exploration. Ask: how can we work together to resolve the Earth’s problems and sustainably explore space? When are emissions associated with space exploration justified? When are they not?
The universe is vast and it has existed for billions of years. When you think about all that is out there in the universe, how does it make you feel about your own life on Earth? What do you think is special about Earth, our planet? What’s special about your life?