The Space Race AND a Field Trip to Io!


Obviously we’ve done a lot of field trips lately. And although we’ve learned and experience new things on all of them (because we are always learning, all the time) the most academic field trip so far this year was our planetarium trip to finish up our Space Race section in history.

Quick Space Race insert:

Our entire unit on the space race consisted of 5 books (well 6, but one isn’t pictured). We tacked this on to the end of a greater unit on Communism and the Cold War. (We would have done more, but I ran out of time and we just really wanted to start summer! You can’t really blame me, right?)

While some of the books were really simplistic, they were all really good. Sometimes simple is better. I don’t know a lot about the space race. I don’t know a lot about NASA or the different missions in space. So technical jargon or a book that assumed I already knew the basics was going to be too advanced for me. (Now, give me a basic book about botany or the human body and I might fall asleep – but space technology? This is, indeed, rocket science, and that just isn’t my forte.)


But a couple of books gave us deeper information, and that was nice, too. One book, in particular, gave us a short history of flight in general. And it was written by Buzz Aldrin. I hear he’s pretty famous among astronauts. *wink wink*

But, the best part of this unit by far was the field trip.

A trip to Io, the third largest of Jupiter’s moons and the most volcanic world in our solar system!!!

Just kidding. It was the Clark Planetarium.

But we felt like we were on Io. Or maybe more it looked like we were on Io. We’ll get to that part later. But first, the top three reasons why this field trip was awesome.

1) It was free. We just had to get ourselves there.


2) Sometime the public school field trip kids would have to go watch a film or sit for a presentation, so all the computers and exhibits were empty and available to our kids! For about 30 minutes at a time we had free range of the entire place! (Then the other kids would come out, climb all over things, take selfies on their phones, bang on stuff, glance at the exhibits and then move on. I felt bad for the kids in those groups who actually wanted to learn. They would be just getting into a program or an exhibit – like programing the space rovers – and the other kids in their group would be done taking selfies or climbing on the moon rocks and would be ready to go.)

3) The exhibits were really interactive and really educational. My children used simulators to test different rocket models and amounts of fuel needed to get a rocket off the ground. Lots of trial and error until they were able to get a working configuration. The two older boys worked on his for about 20 minutes or more.  There were other computer simulators for landing probes on the moon, exhibits to experiment with heat sensor technology, moon rover programming, and an opportunity to try landing a physical probe onto a space station with a joystick and other controls. There was time space continuum stuff (that I can’t really wrap my head around), and a lot of other things that we didn’t really even have time to see!

Every exhibit in the planetarium was FULL of educational opportunity for those who were willing to actually read the plaques and take a minute or two to figure out how to operate the computers/machines. While the younger kids mostly ran around and had fun (like the public school field trip kids) the older kids got to do and see and learn A LOT.


One of my favorite thing to see was the Io exhibit. The lighting was reddish and vacillated between day and night (just lighter and darker), to help with the effect. There were some rocks and murals painted on the walls, enhanced with digital volcano images that would occasionally erupt, accompanied by loud nosies and darker lighting. Although this was one of the areas where the public school kids went super crazy (rocks to climb on, you know) I really thought it was cool (The reddish lighting also drove my littlest one kind of nuts, too. That, and maybe that we had been there for 2 hours already and he was pretty hungry. Thankfully all those kids were so loud and rambunctious that hardly anyone noticed the two year old throwing tantrums in the corner.) The kids got to program little space rovers and get them to solve problems and interact with the other rovers. Sometimes they would get stuck and it would take a lot of programming and maneuvering to get them out of the deep sand, or just untangled with the other robots. DSC08356

In this lovely photo said 2 year old managed to hold still AND smile at the same time! Actually, he only held the top portion of him still, but you know what, that’s pretty darn good. And besides, this photo just makes me laugh! Why didn’t they have any space moon backdrops when I was getting my school photos taken? I feel totally gypped.


We are going up there again. And soon. I don’t care if it is summer time and this trip is educational. They want to go and I am willing to take them.

In fact, my 5th grader gave me his dream week schedule and he had scheduled the planetarium on there twice! (The zoo, aviary, and aquarium had to share a day!)

And lest you think we spent our entire field trip solemn, serious, and studious (and tantruming, depending on your age)…