Space Exploration Lesson for Kids: History, Timeline & Facts

Instructor: Lenore Boyle

Lenore has a Master's degree in Teaching and a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been teaching K-8 for 16 years.

In this lesson, you will learn about the technology that made space exploration possible, and about the race to be the first country to accomplish the feat of traveling into space. The lesson will unfold a timeline of discoveries and history-making events that have shaped what we know about the vast realm beyond our atmosphere.

Amazing Space

I'm really looking forward to my vacation next week. It's my first time traveling to Mars, but my friends who have gone there say it's amazing!

Welcome to Mars!

This sounds like the beginning of a science fiction book, but someday, it may be possible. In the early 1900s, most people wouldn't have thought that men would ever land on the moon, that shuttles would orbit Earth, or that astronauts would live in space stations for long time periods. People have been fascinated with space for ages, but space navigation didn't become a reality until later in the 1900s.

Early Years

In early years, people could see lights in distant skies, but never knew what they were. In the 1600s, mankind got a closer look at what was beyond the atmosphere, with the invention of the telescope, an optical instrument designed to make faraway objects appear closer.

Once the telescope was pointed skyward, bright lights became planets, moons, and asteroids. The blueprint of our galaxy began to take shape.

A refractor, a kind of telescope, at the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin in 1921...Can you locate Albert Einstein?
Refractor, a type of telescope

Race to Space

For over 200 hundred years, telescopes were the only way to explore outer space. In the early 1900s, space technology advanced with the idea that rockets could shoot objects into space . A rocket is a cylinder-shaped object that can be propelled to great distances through internal combustion. Scientists used this to propel their thinking about entering space to actually explore it. The 'Space Race' began. Two countries competed to find a way to escape Earth's atmosphere and navigate outer space. The United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were in a cosmic battle to move to the front of the Space Race.

In Orbit

The USSR was the first to develop and send an artificial satellite into space. An artificial satellite is a man-made object placed in orbit around a planet or moon that's used to gather information. In 1957, Sputnik was launched and became the first such satellite to orbit Earth. The USA later sent their first orbiter into space in 1958, Explorer I. Space technology increased at a rapid pace following these events.

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