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Life In Space: International Space StationLife-In-Space-International-Space-Station

  • Subject: Space Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. An environment with almost no gravity challenges humans living in space. Humans must adjust their diets, sanitation, and sleep patterns; wear space suits; and conduct specially designed experiments.
2. ISS inhabitants perform the daily functions of life in space using special products and procedures.

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For the class:
Computers with Internet access (optional but very helpful)
Additional reference materials on the ISS
Each group of three or four students will need the following:
Large sheets of paper
Construction paper
Colored markers
Each student will need the following:
Classroom Activity Sheet: How Do Astronauts Live in Space? (see printable version)
Take-Home Sheet: A Week in Space (see printable version)

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1. Begin the lesson by asking students what they already know about the IS Station (ISS). As they brainstorm facts, write them on the board. Next, review basic facts about the ISS:
  • The ISS will orbit the Earth, allowing humans to live and work in space for long periods of time.
  • Scientists will be able to study the long-term effects of microgravity (the weightless environment of the ISS) on humans, as well as chemical, physical, and biological processes. These studies should lead to advances in medicine, technology, industrial materials, and in other practical areas.
  • The ISS also serves as a stepping-stone to the solar system because to undertake such missions, we must first understand how humans can survive in space for such long journeys.
  • Sixteen countries are working together to build the ISS: the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, and the nations of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).
  • The ISS is being assembled piece by piece in space. Enormous and heavy, it can only be built in microgravity.
  • The first component of the ISS was Zarya, the control module built by Russia. It was launched into orbit in November 1999 and was followed a few weeks later by the U.S. module Unity. The two modules were connected in space—beginning an assembly that will include over 70 more components and take at least six more years to complete.
2. Have students locate the 16 nations that are working together to build the ISS on a world map. If students have other questions about the ISS, have them find answers in the following Web site
3. Next, ask students what they think it is like to live in space. Begin with a brief discussion of microgravity, the weightless environment of the ISS. Have them consider everyday activities, like eating, taking a shower, and using the bathroom. What might be some challenges of living on the ISS? Tell the class that they will be working in groups and using the Internet or other resource materials to answer questions about living in space.
4. Divide the class into five groups and give each group a set of questions outlined below. Each group will use the Web resources provided to answer questions. All the questions relate to the daily life of astronauts and cosmonauts in space. Students should record their findings on the Classroom Activity Sheet: How Do Astronauts Live in Space?

Group 1: Food

  • How has the food that astronauts eat changed over the last 50 years?
  • What kinds of foods do astronauts eat in space today?
  • What methods are used to prevent food from spoiling?
  • If you lived in space for a month, what foods do you think you would miss the most? Why?
Web Resources
Top 5 Foods Astronauts Request

Eating in Space

Group 2: Space Suits

  • What are the main parts of a space suit? How do they work?
  • Do astronauts have to wear the space suits all the time? Why or why not?
  • What are some safety measures that are built into space suits?
  • Do you think space suits are comfortable? Why or why not?
Web Resources Space Suit: How it Works

Space Suits

The Space Suit (history)

Group 3: Extraterrestrial Experiments

  • What are some examples of experiments that are conducted on the ISS?
  • What do scientists hope to learn about life in space?
  • How do scientists conduct controlled experiments in space?
  • Name two findings that have emerged from experiments done in space.
Web Resources
Home in the Sky: International Space Station

NASA Watch

Group 4: Sanitation in Space

  • How do astronauts shower and use the bathroom in space?
  • Do they have to wash dishes or laundry?
  • How do they keep their living quarters clean?
  • What special sanitation issues do astronauts face that those of us on Earth don’t worry about?
Web Resources

Group 5: Sleep and Relaxation

  • Do astronauts require more or less sleep than normal when they are in space?
  • How many hours of sleep do astronauts usually get each night?
  • How do astronauts relax in space?
  • Do astronauts sleep in a bed? If they do not, how do they sleep?
Web Resources
Recreation and Sleeping
5. After completing the research and filling out the classroom sheet, have each group present its findings to the class. Students should use their Classroom Activity Sheet to take notes. As a follow-up homework assignment, assign the Take-Home Activity Sheet: A Week in Space. Students should use what they learned from the presentations to complete their essays.

Books about the ISS

The International Space Station
Franklyn Mansfield Branley. HarperCollins, 2000.

The International Space Station
Wolfgang Englehardt. Tessloff Publishers, 1998.

Space Station Science Marianne J. Dyson. Scholastic Inc., 1999.

Web Sites on the ISS
If students need additional resources, they may be interested in visiting the following Web sites:

NASA International Space Station

Our Base in Space

Earth from Space: An Astronauts View of the Planet

NASA Spacelink: An Aeronautics & Space Resource for Education

Lesson Plan on the Space Shuttle

100th Space Shuttle Mission a Success

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Forty years ago, during the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, no one could imagine that in the 1990s Russians and Americans would be collaborating on a space station. Have high school students research the history of the space age, focusing on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Make sure students discuss the role of competition between the two countries. In what ways did this competition improve space technology? How did the competition interfere with progress? Students can write a research paper on their findings or make a presentation to the class.

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Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the challenges astronauts face living in a microgravity environment?
2. Why must the ISS be constructed in space rather than on the surface of a planet?
3. What was the space race? What factors led to the United States and Russia collaborating on the ISS?
4. Who first suggested the idea of creating the ISS? Has it always been called the “International Space Station?” If not, what was its former name?
5. If astronauts traveled to Mars, they would be away from Earth for more than a year. What problems do you think being in space for a year would cause? For example, would the astronauts face health problems, and would the equipment be able to remain in space for so long without maintenance? What could be done to address these and other problems?
6. The cost of completing the ISS will exceed $60 billion. Do you think that the benefits of this project justify this astronomical cost? If not, how would you recommend this money be spent?

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Students should be able to work cooperatively in groups; research their questions thoroughly and accurately; make an interesting presentation to the class; and write accurate, lively essays about a week in space. Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students’ work during this lesson:
  • Three points: Students worked effectively in their groups, researched all their questions thoroughly and accurately; presented their findings to the class in an interesting and creative way; and wrote convincing, accurate essays about a week in space.
  • Two points: Students worked somewhat effectively in their groups, researched most of their questions thoroughly and accurately, presented their findings to the class in a satisfactory way, and wrote a satisfactory essay about a week in space.
  • One point: Students did not work very effectively in their groups, researched one question thoroughly and accurately, presented some information to the class, and wrote a few sentences about a week in space.

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Check It Out!
The ISS orbits Earth every 90 minutes. At night, about 85 to 90 percent of the world’s population can see it. As it passes overhead, it looks like a bright, slowly moving star. It takes 3 to 4 minutes to cross the sky, traveling west to east. To find out more about the ISS, students can access the following Web site, which gives real-time data about the ISS’s location:

o, encourage students to look for the ISS as it flies over your area by visiting this Web site, which gives city-by-city information about ISS sightings.

Space Spin-offs
Tools developed by NASA for its space missions often have applications on Earth. For example, cordless drills were developed for the Apollo missions. Another more whimsical example of technology transfer is space pens, which are sold in educational science stores. These pens are able to write when held upside-down, underwater, and in extreme temperatures, which make them useful to astronauts. Have students research other spin-offs from the space program. This Web site is a good place to learn more:

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Suggested Readings

Space Station Science: Life in Free Fall
Marianne J. Dyson. Scholastic, 1999.
For some lucky individuals, the International Space Station may soon be both their home and their work address. This book describes what their lives will be like in the station - how they'll get there, the types of work they'll be doing, and even how they'll accomplish simple things like eating and sleeping while weightless. This book is filled with photographs of past space missions, interviews with astronauts, and experiments you can do on earth.

Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir
Jerry M. Linenger. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
This is an amazing true-life adventure, or perhaps horror story, told by a U.S. astronaut who spent five incredibly perilous months on the Russian space station, Mir. The crew survived failing equipment, power outages, a near collision, and even a fire. It's a fast-paced story told in a personal way by a man who lived through one of the most dangerous missions ever.

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It's About TIMED [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Careers in Space [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Enter the Space Station
Take a 360-degree virtual tour of the International Space Station's Zvezda Servie Module and the Zarya Module at Discovery Online's multimedia web site.

Track the Space Station
Discovery Online provides up-to-the-minute information on where the Space Station is in its orbit, with maps and a tracking system that lets you know when and where to look for the ISS as it passes over your own backyard.

ISS Interactives
Suit up and take a virtual walk in space, see exclusive video from the ISS, and learn how the international community came together to make the ISS at this highly interactive web site from Discovery Online.

Life In Space: The International Space Station
Discovery Online treats you to a fully interactive multimedia web site with everything you ever wanted to know about the International Space Station. This is your first stop for info on the ISS!

Download the model of the International Space Station!
Download templates and cut out parts for assembling your very own colorful 3-D model of the International Space Station.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker   cosmonaut
Definition: A Russian astronaut.
Context: On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first person to travel in space.

speaker   gravity
Definition: The force of attraction between objects.
Context: The farther away an object, such as a spacecraft, gets from Earth, the less effect the Earth’s gravity has on it.

speaker   microgravity
Definition: A very low gravity environment, which causes people and objects to be practically weightless.
Context: During the first few days on the ISS, the effects of microgravity caused some astronauts to feel nauseous.

speaker   space shuttle
Definition: Spaceships that take off and land like airplanes and are designed to be used for up to 100 missions.
Context: In 1993, a crew from the space shuttle Endeavour repaired the orbiting Hubble space telescope.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows ways in which technology and society influence one another (e.g., new products and processes for society are developed through technology; technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes; technology is influenced by social needs, attitudes, values and limitations, and cultural backgrounds and beliefs).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows ways in which technology has influenced the course of history (e.g., revolutions in agriculture, manufacturing, sanitation, medicine, warfare, transportation, information processing, communication).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the nature of technological design.
Evaluates the ability of a technological design to meet criteria established for a specific purpose (e.g., considers factors that might affect acceptability and suitability for intended users or beneficiaries; develop measures of quality with respect to these factors), suggests improvements, and tries proposed modifications.

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Jordan D. Brown, a freelance author in New York City, enjoys writing books, magazines, and Web sites for kids and teachers.

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