Our final Earth Day post is contributed by guest author Rebecca Hitt, Museum Education Assistant Manager at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
When we travel to Mars and beyond, we might never set foot on another planet that matches Earth in its habitability for humans. After all, we evolved here. Earth has exactly what we need: moderate temperatures, plenty of water, breathable air, diverse plants and animals, and abundant natural resources.
Earth sounds like the perfect home, right? But when you hear the word “home,” do you usually picture planet Earth, or do you picture the specific community and area where you live? It’s hard to think of home on a global scale. Home is where we recognize familiar sights and sounds, where we find people we care about, and where we know people care about us. So how do we expand our sense of home beyond the scope of our local community to include the whole of Earth?
By making connections.
The ability to make global connections is an important aspect of Sally Ride EarthKAM, a free educational program that uses a special camera onboard the International Space Station. Educators register for EarthKAM, and their students instruct the window-mounted camera to take pictures of selected places on Earth. When the students receive their requested images, they discover both scientific value and visual beauty. Students learn about weather, land formations, erosion, and changes in glaciers and ice sheets. The learning is not limited to Earth science; there’s also social science and culture. The images reveal patterns in human habitation and land use, including agriculture, deforestation, and urban sprawl, which is especially apparent in nighttime images.
Requesting and studying these images can be a transformative experience. When we learn about a new place, we connect to it. It becomes a part of us.
The mission team and teachers who participate in EarthKAM have noticed an interesting pattern to students’ image requests. Their first request is a picture of where they live or as close to it as possible. The next is farther away but still familiar, like a family vacation destination or a famous big city. Then they choose a location nowhere near them, the most random place they can find along the Space Station’s orbit. Those far-flung locations bring up conversations and connections that have deep and lasting impacts on students. Students and teachers learn details about a part of the world previously unknown to them. They reach out to other classrooms across the world to compare and share images. They use social media to engage with people from the locations in the images.
During a typical one-week EarthKAM mission, the ISS circles the globe about 110 times, passing over most of Earth’s inhabited areas. The special camera onboard the space station receives commands from thousands of curious minds. The resulting collection of images connects people from vastly different places and cultures. When we participate in an EarthKAM mission, we find that within a week, our worlds have broadened. We have joined a new community. Suddenly, our home is just a bit bigger.
Here are just a few of the marvelous images selected by students, courtesy of Sally Ride EarthKAM at Space Camp. See galleries of images and sign up for the next mission at www.earthkam.org.