Connecting Youth to the Journey of Human Space Flight

“If you could, would you travel to outer space today?” An excited debate fills the planetarium as third graders on a field trip to Pacific Science Center’s Willard Smith Planetarium share their ideas.

This is the question that launches PacSci’s newest planetarium show, Lunar Expedition. The show, written for students in grades 3-8, is one part of a field trip experience developed thanks to funding from NASA’s Community Anchor Award.

The goal of this experience is to introduce students to the role engineers play in preparing for human space missions. During their visit, students enjoy the live and interactive planetarium show, explore hands-on exhibits, and test their engineering skills in a design challenge at the Tinker Tank Makerspace. The learning continues with digital resources. These include a Career Corner video featuring a STEAM professional sharing their experience with robotic missions helping NASA prepare for human visits to Mars. Teachers and students can also explore curated activities from PacSci and NASA after returning to their classroom.

So, why the focus on human space flight and engineering?

Whiteboard with "Come Build a Lunar Base Camp"

Human Space Flight – Past and Present

The Apollo program, a monumental undertaking by NASA, achieved the seemingly impossible – safely sending humans to the Moon. An estimated 650 million people watched, as astronaut Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar lander and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The program ultimately landed 12 astronauts on the lunar surface during six successful missions.

Beyond the “giant leap” was a testament to the power of human ingenuity and collaboration, forever changing our perspective of Earth and our place in the universe.

Today, NASA’s Artemis program marks a new chapter in lunar exploration focused on returning humans to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. However, the goals of Artemis extend beyond the Moon. By establishing a sustained lunar presence for humans, NASA aims to test and refine technologies and procedures needed for deep space exploration.

NASA is also using Artemis as an opportunity to correct the mistakes of history that limited those who had access to becoming an astronaut. Artemis will include the first missions to land women and Black and Brown explorers on the Moon. This builds on the incredible contributions of a diverse community of engineers and scientists who have always had an important role in space exploration, from the very start.

Local Connections

Washington state may not be home to an official NASA center, but it plays a major role in supporting NASA efforts including both Apollo and Artemis. The state is 5th in the nation for highest level of jobs in Aerospace Engineering (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The Moon is the farthest humans have traveled into space at this time, it’s also where you can find the farthest Washington State Historical Landmarks – the lunar rovers, which were built and tested here by engineers in Washington! PacSci educator shares while flying over the Apollo landing sites in the planetarium
PacSci educators used NASA media libraries to add images to the story told in the planetarium show. Credit: NASA/Harrison Schmitt

Despite leading in aerospace and other STEM industries, Washington has a STEM skills gap—a lack of those interested and educated in STEM fields and able to meet employment needs. Catalyzing an early interest in STEM is critical to enhancing our state’s STEM workforce. One-third of students lose an interest in science by the 4th grade and a child’s interest in STEM is largely formed by the time they reach upper elementary and middle school (Daugherty et al, 2016).

Artemis provides an exciting opportunity to capture the imagination of a new generation of students. By partnering with NASA, PacSci’s planetarium becomes an immersive launchpad for students to take a behind the scenes look at preparing for these missions, the hands-on design challenges at the Tinker Tank Makerspace allow them to put themselves in the shoes of NASA engineers, practicing real-world skills.

Steps for Engineering Success

Skills practiced by students during this new experience include following the engineering design process. This cycle of steps – starting with identifying a problem followed by researching that problem, brainstorming a solution, building a protype, testing, evaluating, and repeating as needed – is used by engineers to design solutions.

First aid station
laminated papers with "food" and "repair"
Tinker Tank makerspace

This includes engineers at NASA – and also educators designing lessons!

“This project was our first opportunity to develop new programing for onsite field trips, since reopening from our COVID closure in 2022. This allowed our team to rebuild skills like scripting in the planetarium and incorporating resources from content experts like NASA to create engaging experiences that highlight current science.” – Fatima Kamal, Digital Learning Supervisor at PacSci

Going through the same design steps highlighted for students throughout the field trip experience was valuable for PacSci educators. This practice helped them establish skills that will continue to support program development into the future.

Learn More

If reading about PacSci’s work with the NASA Community Anchor Award has left you inspired to explore outer space, be sure to plan your next visit! Visit PacSci’s Education web page to learn more about booking programs like on-site field trips.

To learn more about current work with Artemis and to stay in the know on the latest updates, be sure to visit For educators interested in even more NASA content for their learners, join NASA Connects to access a full library of standards aligned resources!

NASA Partner logo

This material is funded through NASA TEAM II Community Anchor award number 80NSSC23K0796. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.