Starship Gaia #01                                           Version: 2002-01-01



Copyright (c) 2002 by Bob Albrecht ( and Paul Davis (


The universe beckons. Gaia's children are ready to move outward, to explore and build communities in near space, the solar system, and beyond. Explorers and community builders will venture forth, while others remain as the crew of Starship Gaia. – Laran Stardrake


Starship Gaia is about exploring the universe from base camp Gaia, our one-and-only Mother Earth, a great place to live. You'll find an abundance of pictures of Gaia at NSSDC Photo Gallery: Earth ( and NASA Photo Gallery (


Starship Gaia is also our column in Learning and Leading with Technology (L&L), the magazine of the International Society for Technology in Education ( Starship Gaia appears four times a year in L&L. Tables of contents of past issues are at ISTE's Learning & Leading with Technology (






Paul teaches math at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, California. Bob writes math & science instructional stuff. From 1992 to 1997, Paul and Bob played together, learned together at the Center for Technology, Environment, and Communications (C-TEC), a project-based learning community at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, gleefully intertwingling math and science in Paul's classroom. Starship Gaia was a project during the 1993-1994 school year. As their yearlong project, 13 students designed a crewed scientific mission to Mars.


In December 1993 and again in December 1996, C-TEC canceled classes for several school days and designed missions to Mars. Students, teachers, and mentors worked on one great unifying task in much the same way that scientists, engineers, and others work in teams on real-world tasks.


Alas, C-TEC and three other small learning communities at Piner High School were terminated in 1999 by the Santa Rosa School District school board, a group dedicated to the use of multiple-guess tests as the gateway to the real world. We wonder what these visionaries think about things that happened the next year, such as OESE: Smaller Learning Communities ( OESE says: 


To help large high schools and school districts make schools smaller—and create sub-school structures and strategies that make schools "feel" smaller—Congress initially earmarked $45 million in the 2000 Appropriations Act for the Department of Education to fund Section 10105 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This section of the Act, entitled the Smaller Learning Communities Program, was designed to help local educational agencies (LEAs) plan, develop, implement, or expand smaller, more personalized learning communities in large high schools. … A total of 349 schools, serving over 450,000 students, benefited during the first year of the program.



C-TEC was a great adventure, eliminated by teach-to-the-test people in their 1/¥ wisdom. Fortunately, people elsewhere are propagating the idea of small learning communities. Go fish:


·         Education - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (

·         School and District Grants - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (

·         Small Schools Project -Schools to Visit (


Gaia's Neighborhood and Beyond


We are denizens of Gaia, a planet orbiting a yellow star called Sol, also known as Helios  ( Gaia's neighborhood is a solar system consisting of Sol, nine planets, many moons of planets, and zillions of asteroids and comets that go 'round and 'round Sol. To see where the planets are now or at any date and time you choose, go to Solar System Live ( Click on "entire Solar system" to go to a map of the solar system like the one shown here.


The solar system is a member of a larger community, a galaxy that contains more than 100 billion stars. In the USA, we call it the Milky Way. Japanese people call it Amanogawa, the River of Heaven. We suspect that this humongous collection of stars has other names in other cultures. If you go outside on a dark night away from the lights of populated areas, you can look up and see the Milky Way stretching across the sky—it looks very much like the River of Heaven.



The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy with a central hub and spiral arms. From above it resembles a pinwheel. The Milky Way is 100,000 light years in diameter and we are located about 27,000 or 28,000 light years from the galactic center. Visit StarDate Online | The Milky Way (


The Milky Way belongs to a group of galaxies called the Local Group that contains about 30 galaxies. Learn more at The Local Group ( Another member of the Local Group is the Andromeda Galaxy ( and, a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way. The Local Group is almost 10 million light years in diameter. It hangs out with a much larger group of galaxies known as The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies ( that contains 2000 galaxies and is more than 100 million light years in diameter. Big, very big.



It goes on. Elsewhere there are other galaxies that are in local groups that belong to superclusters. Astronomers believe that there are 200 billion galaxies out there and that they are moving away from one another. Cosmologists say the universe began 10 to 20 billion years ago with the Big Bang, expanded to its present size, and is still expanding.  


You can expand your knowledge of the universe by visiting these Internet sites:


·         Starchild: A Learning Center for Young Astronauts ( is a great place to start exploring the universe, especially if you are a kid.

·         The Sun ( Start here to learn about Sol, also known as Helios, the giver of energy to Starship Gaia.

·         The Nine Planets ( beautifully describes the history, mythology, and current scientific knowledge of our solar system.

·         Solar System Live ( shows the current locations of the planets in their orbits. Enter a date and see where these planets are, were, or will be on that date.

·         StarDate Online | The Milky Way ( is a bodacious source of information about the Milky Way, with links you can follow farther out into the universe.

·         The Local Group ( has about 30 members including the Milky Way.

·         The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies ( transports you beyond the Local Group to the nearest supercluster of galaxies.

·         Keep expanding on out to HST findings shed new light on the fate of the Cosmos ( and Hubble's Constant and the Age of the Universe ( You'll find information about the expansion of the universe, and its size and age.

·         How did it all begin? What is the Big Bang? How fast is the universe expanding? What will happen? We recommend a visit to Universe: Cosmology 101 (


Explore Mars


Here we are on Gaia ready to explore the universe. Where shall we go first? We suggest Mars. Begin by exploring the Center for Mars Exploration ( Here you can click on links such as Mars Concept Maps, Calendar (find out what day it is on Mars), Missions (past, present, and future), and Science (Mars facts, science, and essays). Below the main menu, click on "Educator Resources" to go to a menu of CMEX Teacher Resources (


The Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey spacecraft are in Mars orbit. You can follow their progress at


·         Mars Global Surveyor - Welcome to Mars! (

·         Mars Global Surveyor Concept Map


·         2001 Mars Odyssey Home Page (

·         Mars 2001 Odyssey Orbiter Concept Map



More missions to Mars are being planned. Learn about past, present, and future missions at


·         Mars CD-ROM Missions ( There be many concept maps here.

·         Mars: Missions ( 



The Mars Millennium Project ( challenges students across the nation to design communities on Mars. You and your team can design a Mars community. You and your team can communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with others on the Internet to design a community. You and your team can be part of a virtual world of communities on Mars. The launch window is open – your Mars community is trembling on the launch pad!



Getting Off the Launch Pad


Let's see now—what might be the easiest and most enjoyable way to begin your exploration of Mars? Here are some ways to boost your exploration off the launch pad.


One. Read fiction. Read Ben Bova's Mars about a crewed scientific mission to Mars, Robert Zubrin's First Landing about a crewed mission to Mars, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars about the first communities on Mars. While enjoying Red Mars, visit Dr. Kay Sparks' Red Mars Index Page ( Dr. Sparks says, and we agree:


If you are looking for a way to fully experience the landscape, geography, and possible future history of our neighboring planet, Red Mars is a great starting point. The first book of a trilogy including Green Mars and Blue Mars, Red Mars is a possible future history of the colonization of Mars by a group of scientists chosen by Russia and the United States, and their efforts to create a new lifestyle on the new planet. It includes up-to-date technology with ideas that are still only theoretically possible, as well as political and psychological theory, a thorough understanding of the myths of Mars as well as other literature, and an intriguing and comprehensive storyline.


Two. Get the poster, An Explorer's Guide to Mars, from the Planetary Society ( It has a map, lots of information about Mars, and will look great on your wall. We found it at The Space Media Store ( by clicking on "The Planetary Society Store," and then clicking on "See the Worlds." We also found it with a keyword search (explorer guide mars) in the Space Media Store home page.


Three. An Explorer's Guide to Mars has lots of information and looks great on the wall, but its map of Mars is a bit hard to read. We prefer USGS map I-2179, a 1:25,000,000 scale map published in 1991. You can find it listed at USGS Flagstaff Planetary Map Index - Appendix 2 ( Scroll way down and look for MARS 25M GLOBAL: TOPO 4th ed. … 1991 2179. Ordering information is at Maps Available from the U.S. Geological Survey (  


Four. Browse, read, or peruse The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. This book explains step-by-step how we can use today's technology to send people to Mars. If you want to design a scientifically and technologically credible mission to Mars, use this book as a resource and visit these Internet sites:


·         Mars Direct Home Page (

·         The Mars Society (


Five. Browse, read, or peruse the Reference Mission of the NASA Mars Exploration Study Team. Here are Internet sites to help you launch your mission.


·         Human_Mission_Table


·         Human Exploration of Mars ( Read .pdf  (Portable Document Format) files using Adobe Acrobat Reader.


Six. The Internet, the Internet, the Internet! Seek and find. Our favorite search engine is


·         Google (





Have you explored NASA's vast reservoir of resources? We suggest stuffing your backpack with the right stuff from these NASA sites:


·         NASA Quest ( Begin exploring here. Click on "Educators and Parents" to go to Lesson Plans Main Search Page (

·         NASA Quest Discussion Group ( Join hundreds of teachers to discuss science education and space exploration. Read current and archived messages, subscribe to the list, and post messages.

·         NASA Teacher Resource Centers ( Cornucopias of resources, resources, resources. Great destinations for field trips.

·         NASA Spacelink – An Aeronautics and Space Resource for Education ( A good place to get lost in space!

·         NASA CORE – Central Operation of Resources for Educators ( NASA's distribution center for multimedia materials.



Earth and Mars


Mars is the fourth rock from the sun. It is one of the four terrestrial planets—the others are Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Terrestrial planets have rocky surfaces you can walk on. Farther out are the Jovian (Jupiter-like) planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These are gas giants and do not have rocky surfaces. Even farther out is Pluto, which doesn't fit into either category. Pluto's orbit is very eccentric, and sometimes it cruises inside the orbit of Neptune. The Earth & Mars graphic is from Earth & Mars: a Comparison (



The Nine Planets Mars ( site is a bountiful source of information about the Red Planet. Our favorite source of Mars data, data, and more data is the National Space Sciences Data Center ( It displays the latest data about the sun, the planets, and everything else that goes 'round and 'round the sun. NSSDC's Mars Fact Sheet ( presents Mars and Earth data side by side so you can easily compare the two planets.


At Mars Today (, you can view an accurate map of Gaia and Mars in their orbits. We suggest doing this, say, once a week for a few weeks and then using the maps to predict where the two planets will be a week, a month, or farther into the future. When that future time rolls around, compare your prediction with reality.


The picture shown here is from Mars Today May 31, 2001. The planets travel counterclockwise in their orbits. Earth travels faster than Mars, so it is "catching up" with Mars. On June 13, 2001, Mars was in opposition to Earth. It was on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun and you could draw a straight line through the centers of the Sun, Earth, and Mars. During 2001, Mars was very bright in the nighttime sky. 



At Mars Today, in the paragraph to the right of the picture you can click on "click here" to see a QuickTime animation of the orbits of Earth and Mars and their relative positions through 2000 and 2001. We ran it in Windows Media Player. Scroll down to find more animations. If you need a player to run the simulation, download it:

·         QuickTime (

·         Windows Media Player (


Where on Mars will you build your community? We suggest an exploration of NASA's Mars Landing Site Catalog ( It lists way more than 100 interesting landing sites. To narrow your search, go to Top 11 Landing Sites ( As hundreds, thousands, or more teams choose sites on Mars to build their communities, might it get a bit crowded in some of these places?


While exploring possible community sites, you can get close-up views of the Martian surface at PDS Mars Explorer for the Armchair Astronaut ( and Mars Atlas (



History and Future History


Here you are on Earth today designing a community on Mars for sometime in the future. What will happen between now and then? How can you design a community for the year you choose without knowing the history of Mars exploration up to that year? What is the historical context in which you will design your community?


History. What is the history of Mars in art, astronomy, literature, music, mythology, et cetera, et cetera? What do we know about Mars? What exploratory missions have we sent to Mars? What did we learn from them? What missions are on the way to Mars as you read this?


Two of our favorite books provide some of the answers to these questions. We enthusiastically recommend Eric Burgess's Return to the Red Planet (1990) and William Sheehan's The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery (1996).


·         Burgess, Eric. (1990). Return to the Red Planet. New York: Columbia University Press.

·         Sheehan, William. (1996). The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Serendipity! You can read this book online at The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery (


Future history. Here's your chance to write science fiction. What missions to Mars are underway now or planned in the next year or two or more? What will we learn from them? Will people land on and explore Mars? When? What sites on Mars will be selected as the best places for communities? What habitats, equipment, robotic factories, and other resources will already be on the surface of Mars prior to the year your community begins? What resources will be in Mars orbit, available via orbit to surface shuttle vehicles? What resources will arrive from Earth in the years following the beginning of your community? How frequently can ships be launched from Earth to Mars? How long does it take a ship to go from Earth to Mars?


We suggest: Before you design your Mars community, write the history of Mars exploration up to the year your community begins and make it the foundation of your design. Via the Internet, collaborate with other design teams. Play together, learn together.


What about Earth? What will happen on Earth between now and the year your community begins? What will happen where you live now between today and then? How will the future history of Earth affect the future history of Mars? How will the future history of Mars affect the future history of Earth? For ideas on how to write a future history of both Earth and Mars, read Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Red Mars.


As your community survives and thrives, the first Martians – the first humans born on Mars – will populate it. What will they be like? What will you tell them about Earth? What will you tell them about your farm, hometown, city, or wherever you live today?



Meanwhile, Back on Gaia …


Gaia is a great place to live and a terrific base camp for exploring the universe, if we take good care of her. The Internet abounds in resources that remind us of our obligations and help us improve our track record in maintaining Starship Gaia. We suggest these:

·         Planet Ark ( This is the home of Reuters Daily World Environment News. Go there for environmental news, pictures, and free software. Search their archives for topics from acid rain and air pollution to global warming to whaling and zoos.

·         World Environmental Organization - World.Org ( News, tips, links to 1000 environmental organizations. Message board. Be sure to click on Stop Junk Mail.

·         Environmental Education - Link: EE-Link Introduction ( is "Your Link to Environmental Education Resources on the Internet."

·         EnviroLink Network ( was created by Josh Knauer while he was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University. It has grown from a simple mailing list of 20 student activists to become one of the world's largest environmental information clearinghouses.

·         Junkbusters Home Page ( Dejunk your life in various ways.

·         The Mail Preference Service - Consumer Assistance

( The Mail Preference Service is sponsored by The Direct Marketing Association (The DMA). Go find out how to reduce junk mail, then please do it.


There are catastrophes we can avoid and catastrophes we cannot avoid. To learn more, visit Earth Sciences 8 - Earth Catastrophes ( Its 25 lessons include Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming, Floods: Natural and Human Induced, Human Induced "Geological" Catastrophes, and A Few More Human-Induced Disasters. Also read Isaac Asimov's delightful book A Choice of Catastrophes: The Disasters That Threaten Our World. For more about that, go to Review of Choice of Catastrophes  (



Things to Come


In future episodes of Starship Gaia, we'll pose activities comparing Earth and Mars ranging from simple number crunching to investigations and projects. We'll weave a variety of math, science, environmental, and other subjects into our Starship Gaia explorations. We can all learn how to take good care of Gaia and ourselves. We can all imagine communities on Mars that blend the best of Earth and the promise of Mars.





Big Bang  A widely accepted theory of the origin and evolution of our universe. The Big Bang theory postulates that the observable universe started 10 to 20 billion years ago from an incredibly dense clump of primeval stuff that exploded and then expanded rapidly in all directions. According to this theory, the expansion continues today and, on the average, the distance between galaxies is increasing. That is, the galaxies are moving away from one another.


cosmologist  A person who studies the origin, structure, evolution, and destiny of the universe. A cosmologist wants to know:

·         How did the universe begin?

·         What is it made of?

·         What is its present structure?

·         How did it evolve into this structure?

·         What is its destiny?


Gaia  In Greek mythology, Gaia is the oldest of the goddesses and is the terra mater, or Mother Earth. In the late 1960s, Dr. James Lovelock, a British atmospheric scientist, and Dr. Lynn Marquis, an American microbiologist, began developing a body of work known as the Gaia Hypothesis. Their work centers on concepts and arguments that depict the Earth as a self-evolving, self-regulating living system, with all living organisms interrelated and connected.


·         The Gaia Hypothesis - Lovelock & Margulis - Introduction ( Scroll down and click on Section (2) – Dr. James Lovelock – Formulation of the Gaia Hypothesis.

·         The Gaia Hypothesis ( Lecture notes from the University of Michigan's Global Change Project.


galaxy  An enormous collection of stars, gas, dust, and other stuff held together by gravitational forces. A galaxy may contain millions to hundreds of billions of stars. The Milky Way galaxy contains 100 billion to 200 billion stars. The universe contains hundreds of billions of galaxies. Our descendents will not lack interesting places to explore.


light year  A measure of the distance that light travels in a vacuum (empty space) in one Earth year. One light year is a distance of

·         9.460530 ´ 1015 meters.                               [Spreadsheet/calculator: 9.460530E+15 m.]

·         9.460530 ´ 1012 kilometers.                          [Spreadsheet/calculator: 9.460530E+15 km.]

·         5.878501 ´ 1012 miles.                                 [Spreadsheet/calculator: 5.878501E+12 mi.]

·         Approximately 9.5 trillion kilometers.            [Spreadsheet/calculator: 9.5E+12 km.]

·         Approximately 6 trillion miles.                       [Spreadsheet/calculator: 6E+12 mi.]


The speed of light is

·         299,792,458 meters per second.

·         2.99792458 ´ 108 meters per second.            [Spreadsheet/calculator: 2.99792458E+08 m/s.]

·         299,792.458 kilometers per second.

·         Approximately 300,000 kilometers per second.

·         Approximately 186,000 miles per second.


One Earth year equals 365.242 days and one day equals 86,400 seconds, so

·         1 light year = (speed of light) ´ (number of days in 1 year) ´ (number of seconds in 1 day).

·         1 light year = (299,792,458 m/s) ´ (365.242 d/y) ´ (86,400 s/d) = 9.46052 ´ 1015 m.


Our calculated value of 1 light year differs slightly from the true value because the number of days per Earth year is rounded to six significant digits. Therefore, the calculated value may have a small error in its sixth significant digit. No problem, because 9.46 ´ 1015 m or 9.5 ´ 1015 m is close enough for most of our calculations.


solar system  A system consisting of a star and all of the objects that orbit the star. We are a member of a solar system consisting of the sun, nine planets, moons and rings that orbit some of the planets, asteroids, comets, and objects that humans have launched into space.


spiral galaxy  A galaxy that is in the shape of a flat disk with an ellipsoidal center and spiral arms that wind outward from the center. From above, a spiral galaxy looks like a pinwheel. Our Milky Way galaxy is a spiral galaxy. The Andromeda galaxy, about 2.9 million light years away, is also a spiral galaxy.