•  Cernan Earth and Space Center

    On Orbit

    Grade Level: Third grade and up 
    Length: 38 minutes

    On Orbit is a multimedia planetarium show that provides viewers with a virtual tour of the International Space Station, using a great deal of NASA video footage taken by the astronauts themselves. The program is divided into 15 chapters, which are described as follows: 


    Mankind's First Space Station. This chapter looks back on the history of the space station and what it represents –namely, a permanent outpost in space. The Soviet Union's Salyut space station and the United States' Skylab of the 1970s and the Russian MIR space station of the 1980s and 1990s are briefly shown and described. The Space Shuttle/MIR cooperative venture of the 1990s laid the groundwork for the current Space Shuttle/ISS program. 

    Mankind Dreams of Living in Space. Using archival film clips and paintings, this chapter reflects on how space travel was first envisioned by science fiction writers and movie and television producers. 

    Astronauts Train at NASA. This chapter shows how astronaut candidates are trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, including classroom instruction and intensive training in simulators and full-scale space mockups. 

    Shuttle Flight and Space Station Training. This chapter shows how astronauts prepare for and train in NASA's huge neutral buoyancy tank, which is the world's largest indoor swimming pool. Since the underwater world is similar to the weightless conditions experienced in space, this is an ideal place to practice the tasks that they will later perform on actual space walks. 

    Zero Gravity Training Aboard KC-135. This chapter briefly shows the other way of experiencing zero gravity, albeit only for 20 seconds at a time. NASA's KC-135 airplane flies high and then free falls as many as 40 times each flight to give astronaut candidates a brief taste of the weightless environment. 

    Survival Training. This chapter briefly shows the survival training that astronauts undergo, which includes water landings and survival in winter-like conditions. 

    Space Shuttle – Transport to Station. This chapter shows an actual Space Shuttle launch and describes the short span of time needed to reach Earth orbit. For the next two days, the Space Shuttle will pursue the International Space Station, reaching it and docking with it on the third day. The ISS is described as five times larger than MIR, with a wingspan of 356 feet, a length of 290 feet, and a living space equivalent of two 747 jumbo jets. Over 100 components comprise its modular construction. When completed, 160 space walks and 1,900 hours will be needed to complete its construction. A time-lapse sequence shows all the components being added to the ISS to reach its final status. 

    Adjusting to Weightlessness. This chapter briefly shows how astronauts exercise to overcome the loss of muscle that is experienced in the zero gravity environment. Additional research is needed to prepare for the day when astronauts will make longer space voyages, or perhaps even make several extended missions during their careers. 

    Cosmic Rays and Other Dangers in Space. This chapter describes some of the dangers that astronauts face, including high levels of radiation and intense heat and cold. Spacesuits are amazing feats of engineering, providing the safeguards of a spaceship in a multi-layer wearable suit. 

    Low Earth Orbit. This chapter briefly describes the increasingly crowded realm of Low Earth Orbit, which is where the Space Shuttle and International Space Station operate. NASA must track about 10,000 objects (many of which are pieces of man-made space junk) to provide a warning system for potential collisions that could damage spacecraft or injure spacewalking astronauts. 

    Three Robot Arms. This chapter describes the ISS's three robotic arms –- the 56-foot "Canada Arm," the "Mobile Remote Service Based System," and the "European Robotic Arm." -– as well as other devices to handle payloads aboard the ISS. 

    NASA Food. This chapter describes the food that astronauts eat aboard the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, how they plan their meals, and how they prepare their meals. The subject of sleeping in zero gravity is also described. 

    Time to Relay, Workout, or Just Look Out. This chapter briefly describes how astronauts spend their leisure time on each space mission, performing tasks such as reading, sending e-mail messages to colleagues and family members, and/or simply looking out the windows to the skies above and the Earth below. 

    Station Upkeep. This chapter briefly describes how astronauts must perform tasks to maintain the ISS, just as homeowners must similarly do on Earth. This section also highlights science and medical experiments that are undertaken to better understand the unique properties of the zero gravity environment. 

    Completing the Space Station and its Future. This chapter briefly continues the brief discussion about future research and how it will benefit not only the astronauts in space, but us Earthlings as well. 

    Space Shuttle Departing the Space Station. This chapter describes the procedure by which the Space Shuttle undocks from the ISS, begins its re-entry into Earth atmosphere, and follows a steep glide path back to Earth. Safely back on Earth, our virtual mission to the ISS now ends.