KeywordsMuseums Science centers Literacy Families Communities Students Teachers Multimedia Life-long learning Informal education Publics Cities Knowledge
Space museums are institutions that conserve space exploration artifacts and disseminate cultural, artistic, historical, and scientific exploration knowledge to global publics in cities, towns, and rural enclaves.
The future of space exploration and the advancement of bioastronautics education require scientifically literate publics that are informed about the benefits – and relevance – of space exploration for life on Earth. Space museums and science centers are central for disseminating the global vision that space exploration enhances our understanding of Earth and the universe while also producing benefits for futures generations (International Academy of Astronautics IAA 2010a). These are found in most major cities and towns and in some rural areas worldwide. They reach out to students, teachers, families, and the general public through diverse activities, including multimedia productions (e.g., television, film, radio, web-based), topical exhibits, teacher professional development programs, summer/after-school education programs, and targeted partnerships with educational institutions to create new space-based materials and deepen informal science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) education (MacLeish et al. 2008).
Space museums and science centers differ from traditional museums, which have existed for centuries to preserve and provide access to culture artifacts and objects of art. However, some traditional museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History, have broadened their mandates to include space exploration exhibits, IMAX films and planetariums that convey space knowledge. Many space museums and science centers have specialized missions to exhibit and house retired space equipment, educate visitors about aviation history and advances, and disseminate bioastronautics research findings (e.g., new technologies to monitor, diagnose, and treat medical conditions encountered in the extreme environment of space and applications of those solutions for patients on Earth who suffer from related conditions, such as osteoporosis, muscle wasting, shift-related sleep disorders, balance disorders, and cardiovascular system problems).
Space museums and science centers provide a wide variety of experiences covering space and aviation history, technology-driven exhibits, and bioastronautics educational transfer. Some space museums interpret space exploration science and present the broad nuances of cutting edge research in ways that the general public can understand. And NASA has a long tradition of public outreach through its visitor centers that allows participants to see space facilities and experience elements of life in space. Offering first-hand experience and opportunities for memorable school field trips, hands-on curriculum, science kits, and teacher training, these institutions can help STEAM educators to rethink and improve their efforts to teach space science subjects.
It is difficult to assess, empirically, the extent to which space museums increase space science literacy among their audiences and within their communities. However, there is universal consensus that they are vital for (1) transferring space-based science knowledge, (2) inspiring the next generation of explorers, and (3) increasing public appreciation for and understanding of bioastronautics research and space exploration (Falk et al. 2008). People visit space museums and science centers for reasons that vary among cultural/rural/urban/economic/social lines. However, attendees tend to view them as neutral environments that entertain, educate, and fulfill social services missions (Finson et al. 2006). Major space museums and science centers are sustained by funding from governmental and private sources. Museum and science center programs in the United States, for example, can receive governmental support through the National Science Foundation and other agencies, including the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC 2013).
There is emerging global consensus that if national space agencies are to retain public support, effective measures must be found to involve the public in the process and outcomes of space exploration (IAA 2010a). In fact, recent survey information from the United States indicates that the public will not automatically approve the expenditure of national resources on space exploration activities (http://www.space.com/10601-apollo-moon-program-public-support-myth.html). Space museums and science centers are responding by providing test-beds for the development of culturally competent narratives that explain the practical, “real-life” benefits and applications of complex bioastronautics topics, such as forces, gravity, and the changes undergone by the human body while in space. Museums also use social networking and other information technologies to develop local education networks and create new venues through which to promote civic engagement in conversations about the benefits of space exploration for society (IAA 2010a).
Space museums and science centers are generating films, radio programs, and other innovative products, often in collaboration with outside partners, that engage students, teachers, and the general public in the excitement of space exploration and educate them about the changes experienced by the human body when it leaves Earth’s orbit. These media-driven projects are transferring new research knowledge to diverse audiences; creating new forums through which to educate the public about space life sciences; providing engaging, current curricula and textbooks on space life sciences; and motivating students at all levels to pursue STEAM careers. Museums are helping to construct online communities that connect individuals and entities with shared interests (e.g., via MyFace and Facebook in the United States and Hi5 in Europe and South America), enabling users to communicate via e-mail and various forms of instant messaging, and changing the ways people across the globe communicate.
Multimedia Materials and Teacher Professional Development
Many universities and space centers collaborate with museums and multimedia organizations to produce and disseminate bioastronautics education materials, radio and television products, and space-related film archives. In the United States, these collaborations are supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which advocates that museums and science centers across the country consider national, state, and local standards in developing their exhibits and programs and in selecting appropriate themes for science exhibits and docent training in what to expect children of certain ages to know and be able to do in science and plan professional development for teachers (http://www.project2061.org/publications/bsl/). Notable examples of bioastronautics educational materials developed in collaboration among universities science centers and museums and disseminated across the United States include the television documentary, Exploring Two Frontiers: The Neurolab Space Shuttle, produced with Atlanta Educational Telecommunication Collaborative (AETC) and Public Broadcasting Atlanta-TV 30 (Beyond Two Public Broadcasting Atlanta. 1998, Atlanta, Ga). This documentary was distributed to millions of viewers internationally and has been adapted for YouTube. Other multimedia space life science productions include The Brain in Space, an in-depth look at human biology and behavior through the lens of space bioastronautics research, and National Public Radio’s (NPR) award-winning, six-part series, Biomedical Science for Space Travelers (Sleep and Space (The Neurolab Spacelab Mission: Neuroscience Research in Space, NASA, Ed., Buckey, JL, Homick, JL, NASA SP-20013-535- ISBN 0-9725339-0-7, 2003).
The first program in the NPR series, Space Aging, focuses on new discoveries related to bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and muscle atrophy, including implications for addressing the aging process on Earth. The second program, Getting Your Bearings, discusses balance problems faced during spaceflight and explains how the human neurovestibular system adapts to changes in orientation and environment. The third program, The Human Clock, explains how the human brain registers changes in light and dark while in space and how these changes help to regulate our internal 24-h “clock” on Earth. The Enigma Force describes the human body’s response to microgravity. The next two segments, Telemedicine and The Long Distance Patient, focus on the challenges associated with consulting, diagnosing, and delivering effective medical care when the physician is far away and describe NASA programs to facilitate distance medicine for astronauts. This documentary series was syndicated to Australia and Canada and aired on 106 stations covering more than 70% of the United States, including all major markets (MacLeish et al. 2001).
Another series, Sleep and Space, features scientists explaining how sleep research is informing treatment of sleep disorders in both patients on Earth and astronauts in space. The series is comprised of five segments: Sleep and Space, Why We Sleep, Sleep Dangers, Sleep and Kids, and Sleep and Aging. An additional six-part series, developed by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in partnership with EarthSky Communications, captures and disseminates the work of scientists via radio broadcasts and podcasts distributed to millions of audiences worldwide (MacLeish et al. 2001).
Elementary and secondary school-level bioastronautics curricular materials, developed and disseminated by Baylor College of Medicine in partnership with Space Center Houston (at Johnson Space Center), include a series called From Outer Space to Inner Space. This series includes units called Sleep and Daily Rhythms, Muscles and Bones, and Food and Fitness (Moreno et al. 2004a; Moreno and Tharp 2000). It promotes development of inquiry skills and science content knowledge in physical, Earth/space, and life science, with a particular focus on health concerns shared by astronauts in space and many people on Earth (sleep disruption, brittle bones and weakening muscles, and special nutritional needs). Similarly, Morehouse School of Medicine has a longstanding collaboration with Atlanta’s Fernbank Science Center, where an institute dedicated to the professional development of science teachers was established. The institute creates opportunities for the continued professional growth of science teachers and informal education of students and families and conducts field trips to local universities to observe effective incorporation of space technology into classroom lessons.
Select US Space Museums and Science Centers
The California Science Center is best known for its hands-on experiences, IMAX Theater, and space exhibits, including the Apollo-Soyuz Command Module, the F-20 Tigershark, and Sputnik.
The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, located in Hutchinson, Kansas, focuses on the “Space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union. The museum has the largest collection of Russian/Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow, including Sputnik 1 and 2 and a Russian Vostok spacecraft.
The Kennedy Space Center includes a shuttle-launch experience simulator, a rocket garden, and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.
The Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the world’s largest science centers with approximately 1.4 million visitors each year. It emphasizes integration of engineering into schools and museums nationwide and development of elementary curricula that incorporate STEM with social studies via storybooks and hands-on design challenges.
The National Air and Space Museum is the country’s best-known aviation museum and reputedly the most visited museum in the world. It includes the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer, the Apollo Lunar Module, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, and many other historic planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, and space capsules, as well as the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium. The Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is home to the space shuttle discovery.
Space Center Houston, the visitor’s center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, houses the astronaut gallery, which contains the world’s largest collection of spacesuits, the Apollo 17 Command Module, and a space simulator.
The Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is the site of the first US space camp, which offers a modified version of astronaut training and exhibits on US space exploration during the 1960s.
Summary and Conclusions
Space museums and science centers play a key role in promoting (1) general scientific literacy, (2) public understanding of bioastronautics research and its relevance for life on our planet, and (3) the global astronautic vision that space exploration enhances understanding of Earth and the universe and produces benefits for future generations (IAA 2010a). They reach out to students, teachers, families, and the general public through diverse activities, including multimedia productions, topical exhibits, teacher professional development programs, education programs, and partnerships with educational institutions to create new space-based materials and deepen informal science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) education (MacLeish et al. 2008). Space-based museums and science centers are essential institutions for increasing science literacy, promoting public appreciation for/understanding of bioastronautics education, and publicizing the relevance and benefits of space exploration to life on Earth. They have mission flexibility that allows them to collaborate with the full spectrum of educational institutions – from elementary through postgraduate levels – to create new space-related materials and promote deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) fields. Also, they contribute to teacher professional development programs and prepare communities and students for full participation in the emerging technologically global world in which the future of space exploration resides.
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