Lesson Plan: Space Exploration

Planetary Exploration

Valerie Neal, National Air and Space Museum Space History Department Chair, talks about planetary exploration over time.


Following WWII, the U.S. established its program to launch missiles, satellites, vehicles and people into space. The program has grown since its inception to include improved communications, scientific discoveries, strategic military use, collaboration with other countries as well as experiments with spacecraft being developed in the private sector. As students view the videos in this lesson, they will learn about the stages in the development of the space program, consider the costs to fund it and determine the direction the U.S. should take in the future.


  • STEP 1:

    As a class view the following video to provide context.

    VIDEO CLIP: Planetary Exploration (2:48)

    Valerie Neal, National Air and Space Museum Space History Department Chair, talks about planetary exploration over time.

  • STEP 2:

    After viewing the video, ask students to "take a stand" on this issue. "Is space exploration worth the cost?"

    Use the following "take a stand" activity from our Classroom Deliberations website.

  • STEP 3:

    Students may work independently or you can jigsaw your class into groups to view the videos below and complete the chart on the handout.

    HANDOUT: Space Exploration ** (Google Doc)

    Have students present the information on their topic to the class either as a whole group or in small group discussions.

  • VIDEO CLIP: The Lunar and Apollo Command Modules (7:10)

    Valerie Neal talks about lunar modules at the museum located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


    • Describe the design and function of the Lunar Module.

    • Explain the mission of Apollo 11.

    • Compare the computer programs that were used during this mission to modern day computer programs.
  • VIDEO CLIP: SpaceShipOne (5:23)

    Valerie Neal talks about this spacecraft and its significance in the history of space in the U.S.


    • Explain the significance of SpaceShipOne.

    • Describe how this spacecraft operates.

    • Explain the future of this program according to Valerie Neal.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Skylab (8:01)

    Valerie Neal talks about the creation, design and purpose of Skylab.


    • Explain the purpose of the Skylab program.

    • Describe the construction and design of Skylab.

    • Explain the function of the observatory.

    • Explain the significance of Skylab to the space program.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Space Shuttle Program (8:24)

    Valerie Neal talks about the space shuttle program.


    • Explain the focus of the space shuttle era.

    • Describe how shuttles were launched into space.

    • Explain the purpose of the shuttle.

    • How did this program impact the astronaut corps?
  • VIDEO CLIP: History of the International Space Station (5:23)

    Former NASA Astronaut Don Thomas talks about the International Space Station.


    • When was this space station launched?

    • Which design did NASA finally send into space?

    • Describe the features of the space station and how it evolved over time.

    • Explain some of the contributions of various countries to the international space station.

    • What is the purpose of the space station?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Viking (3:18)

    Valerie Neal talks about Viking and its role on Mars.


    • Explain the purpose of the Viking spacecraft after it landed on Mars.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Rovers (6:16)

    Valerie Neal talks about planetary exploration with rovers.


    • Explain the purpose of rovers.

    • Describe some of the discoveries on Mars that were made through the Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers.
  • STEP 4.

    View the following video and discuss as a whole class the funding for the U.S. Space Program. Students may take notes on their chart.

    VIDEO CLIP: Federal Funding for Space Exploration (7:01)

    Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, discusses his perspective on whether federal spending on space exploration is worth the cost.

  • STEP 5:

    Have students consider the content of the clips, their notes and class discussion to determine if space exploration is worth the cost.

    Students should explain their positions on continuing space exploration, how it should be funded and which areas of concentration NASA should focus on in the future.

    This can be completed by dividing the class into teams to debate this issue or ask students to write an essay.

Additional Resources


  • Aerodynamic
  • Ambient
  • Apollo 11
  • Challenger
  • Columbia
  • Discovery
  • Dormant
  • Drag
  • Geologist
  • Hybrid Rocket
  • International Space Station
  • Observatory
  • Orbit
  • Organic Compound
  • Pathfinder Mission
  • Propellant
  • Rover
  • Solid Rocket Booster
  • Space Race
  • Stabilize
  • Static Craft
  • Suborbital
  • Surrogate


Bureaucracy & RegulationScience & TechnologyU.S. HistoryWorld History


Middle SchoolHigh School