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Space Life Science

Space Life Science

Researchers study effects of blue light treatments to help improve the sleep and biological rhythms of astronauts.
Courtesy of NSBRI.

Looking for a new spin on life science lessons? BioEd Online brings the excitement of space life science to your classroom through a series of curricular units focused on engaging topics such as the effects of microgravity on our body systems, maintaining fitness and health during long-duration space missions, the impact of space travel on sleep patterns.

Since 1998, Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) has been sponsored by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) to translate and transfer knowledge gained by NSBRI research teams into materials that are appropriate for middle and high school teachers and students. These efforts resulted in a series of four educational modules that teach space life science concepts and promote STEM careers.

The links below provide access to complete teacher guides or individual activities (PDF), PowerPoint slides, video presentations, and other content to enhance your instruction related to space life sciences, including science articles from the journal, Nature. These resources are available free of charge.

Complete Teacher Guides

Thumbnail Image for Food and Fitness Teacher Guide

Food and Fitness

Students examine their individual energy and nutritional needs, what calories are, true portion sizes, and more. They use what they've learned to plan menus for persons with special dietary needs.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from The Science of Food and Fitness Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Thumbnail Image for Heart and Circulation Teacher Guide

Heart and Circulation

Students learn about the heart's structure and function, how large volumes of blood are moved through the body, the pathways blood follow, and the effects of microgravity on the heart.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from The Science of the Heart and Circulation Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Thumbnail Image for Muscles and Bones Teacher Guide

Muscles and Bones

Students investigate the structure of bones and muscles, good physical stress, nutrition for fitness, the body's center of gravity, and what can be done to prevent muscle and bone loss.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from The Science of Muscles and Bones Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Thumbnail Image for Sleep and Daily Rhythms Teacher Guide

Sleep and Daily Rhythms

Students explore the day/night cycle and seasonal cycles on Earth, create and use sundials, and investigate circadian rhythms, sleep patterns and factors affecting the quality of sleep.

Classroom SlidesSlide Set

Classroom Slides

Slide set containing information and images from The Science of Sleep and Daily Rhythms Teacher's Guide, for use in classrooms as needed.

Individual Lessons: Food and Fitness

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Energy for Life

Students observe and quantify the growth of yeast (a single-celled fungus) when it is given table sugar as a food source.

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Energy Sources

Students compare how much energy is released as heat from two different food types.

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Thumbnail Image for Your Energy Needs

Your Energy Needs

Students estimate average daily baseline energy (Calorie) needs and energy needs for different levels of activity.

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Serving Sizes

Students estimate serving sizes of different foods and compare their estimates to serving size information provided on Nutrition Facts food labels.

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Thumbnail Image for Servings and Choices

Servings and Choices

Students document their individual eating habits and learn whether their eating patterns meet their needs.

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Thumbnail Image for Your Nutrition Needs

Your Nutrition Needs

Students compare their own eating habits to standard recommendations for a healthy diet.

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Thumbnail Image for Nutritional Challenges

Nutritional Challenges

Students learn about healthy eating habits to meet special needs, such as those of athletes, persons with diabetes and vegetarians.

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Individual Lessons: Heart and Circulation

Thumbnail Image for What Do You Know About the Heart? (assessments)

What Do You Know About the Heart?

To evaluate their understanding of the heart and circulatory system, students take a pre-assessment, which is revisited at the end of the unit as a post-assessment.

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A System of Transport

Students work in teams to simulate the volume of blood moved through the circulatory system by transferring liquid into—and through—a series of containers.

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Thumbnail Image for Why Circulate?

Why Circulate?

Students study and draw conclusions about the movement of dissolved substances, and develop explanations about the importance of organisms’ internal transport systems.

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Thumbnail Image for It Begins with the Heart

It Begins with the Heart

Students are introduced to the heart, its role in circulation, and its external appearance.

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Thumbnail Image for The Heart is a Pump

The Heart is a Pump

Students learn about the internal structures of the heart, and the roles these structures play in circulating blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.

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Examining the Heart

Students examine sheep or chicken hearts to learn about the heart’s structure and the flow of blood through the heart.

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Heart Rate and Exercise

Students measure their heart rates after a variety of physical activities and compare the results with their resting heart rates, and with the heart rates of other students in their groups.

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What is Blood Pressure?

Students measure their own blood pressure and learn about the health effects of high blood pressure.

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Challenge: Microgravity

Students use water balloons to simulate the effects of gravity and microgravity on fluid distribution in the body.

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Individual Lessons: Muscles and Bones

Thumbnail Image for Gravity and Buoyancy

Gravity and Buoyancy

Students compare the behavior of a water-filled plastic bag, both inside and outside of a container of water, to begin to understand environments with gravity and those with reduced gravity.

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Skeletal Structures

Students design and build an exoskeleton or an endoskeleton for an animal of their own invention.

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The Skeleton

Students learn about endoskeletons by observing, comparing and contrasting different kinds of chicken bones, and by relating their chicken bone observations to human bones.

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Bone Structure: Hollow vs. Solid

Students investigate and compare the weight-bearing capacity of solid and hollow cylinders, make inferences about bone structure and observe the interior of cleaned chicken bones.

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Arm Model

Students construct a model arm and learn how muscles and bones work together to achieve efficient movement.

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Muscle Fibers

Students learn about the structure of muscles by comparing yarn and cooked meat.

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Center of Gravity

Students learn about center of gravity and how the body adjusts to the force of gravity to remain balanced.

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Thumbnail Image for Good Stress for Your Body

Good Stress for Your Body

Students learn that muscles and bones need to work to stay strong or increase strength and endurance.

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Thumbnail Image for Muscles and Bones: Nutrition

Muscles and Bones: Nutrition

Students learn about the nutritional needs of healthy bones and muscles, and how to make good food choices, especially in terms of getting enough calcium.

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Thumbnail Image for Muscles and Bones in Space

Muscles and Bones in Space

Students learn how our muscles and bones change during space missions, and then devise preventative solutions to help limit those changes.

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Individual Lessons: Sleep and Circadian Rhythms

Thumbnail Image for Modeling Day and Night

Modeling Day and Night

Students make a “mini-globe” to investigate the causes of day and night on our planet.

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Thumbnail Image for Reason for the Seasons

Reason for the Seasons

Students plot the path of the sun’s apparent movement across the sky on two days, with the second day occurring two or three months after the first.

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Thumbnail Image for Using a Sundial

Using a Sundial

Students make a sundial (shadow clock) appropriate for their geographic location in the northern hemisphere, and use it to tell time.

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Thumbnail Image for Living Clocks

Living Clocks

Students learn that some behaviors and functions of living organisms vary predictably every 24 hours, and that many regular life functions are governed by internal “clocks.”

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Thumbnail Image for Sleep Patterns

Sleep Patterns

Students collect data about their own sleep cycles and use a fraction wheel to examine their data.

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Thumbnail Image for Investigating Sleep

Investigating Sleep

Changes in daily routines and schedules sometimes conflict with our internal clocks. Students investigate how changing the time they go to bed impacts their own sleep patterns.

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Thumbnail Image for Sleeping in Space

Sleeping in Space

Students learn from times they have had difficulty sleeping, read about how astronauts sleep in space, and write about unusual places in which they have slept.

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Sleep: Post-assessment

Summative assessment activity in which students review concepts about sleep and daily cycles, and create their own illustrated poems.

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Related Video and Slide Presentations

Explore BioEd Online’s library of videos and peer-reviewed, annotated slides. All are free for classroom use.

Thumbnail Image for Bone Loss with Space Exploration Video

Bone Loss with Space Exploration

Learn about bone structure and different kinds of bone, causes of bone loss during space exploration, and strategies for slowing or counterbalancing the process of bone loss, in space and on Earth.

Thumbnail Image for Eating in Space: Does Nutrition Matter?

Eating in Space: Does Nutrition Matter?

Learn how astronauts maintain proper nutrition levels and why nutrition is critical to the success of long duration spaceflight.

Video Digital Slide Set
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Exploring Microgravity

What is microgravity? How is it created? And how does it impact astronauts during spaceflight? This primer provides answers to these and other questions about the near weightless conditions in space.

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Radiation Effects

Learn about the potential dangers and effects of radiation on space travelers, and ways in which the risks can be reduced.

Video Digital Slide Set
Thumbnail Image for Maintaining Muscle Mass in Space

Maintaining Muscle Mass in Space

How and why do our muscles change during spaceflight, why is this important, and what can we do to limit muscle atrophy in space and on Earth?

Video Digital Slide Set
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Sleep and Human Performance

When sleep is disturbed, we become less alert and attentive, and generally perform at a lower level. Learn about studies being conducted to understand these problems for astronauts.

Video Digital Slide Set
Thumbnail Image for Sleep and Daily Rhythms Video

Sleep and Daily Rhythms

The body’s “internal clock” and sleep patterns are strongly impacted by the spaceflight and microgravity. What can be done to counteract these impacts?

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Therapeutic Ultrasound

What is therapeutic ultrasound, and what are some of its applications? How can it be used to provide healthcare in space? Learn about the potential benefits of therapeutic ultrasound for astronauts and patients.

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The Barany Chair

Astronauts on space missions must cope with, and adjust for the impact of microgravity on their senses. Gregory Vogt, EdD, demonstrates how to use the Barany Chair, a tool that illustrates some of these sensory challenges.

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Nature News Stories

BioEd Online is pleased to provide current biology and life sciences news stories from Nature News, the science syndication arm of the premier international science publisher, the Nature Publishing Group.

For articles on a variety of topics, visit BioEd Online's Nature News library.

Bright light accelerates ageing in mice Kepler spacecraft rakes in nearly 1,300 planets Mysterious radio burst pinpointed in distant galaxy Einstein's gravitational waves found at last Lab staple agar hit by seaweed shortage

Podcasts Plus

BioEd Online is pleased to offer this series of podcasts featuring conversations with leading space life sciences researchers about their cutting-edge work. The free podcasts are downloadable, and reinforced with supplementary standards-based educational activities, background information, and links to related content. Topics include experiments on sleep in space, lunar dust, keeping fit during long-duration space flight, and more.

Thumbnail Image for Scott Dulchavsky: Diagnosing Injuries in Space Podcast Plus

Diagnosing Injuries in Space

Learn about a technique to train space flight crews to conduct medical-quality ultrasound imaging that will allow them to diagnose injuries that occur during space missions.

Thumbnail Image for Kim Prisk: Health Hazards of Lunar Dust Podcast Plus

Health Hazards of Lunar Dust

What is lunar dust, and why is it a concern for lunar explorers? What are the possible health effects of inhaling lunar dust? Hear the answers and learn about current studies to solve the problem.

Thumbnail Image for George Brainard: Sleep Quality Podcast Plus

Improving Sleep Quality During Space Flight

Learn about current research with lighting systems, which may help to improve the quality of astronauts' sleep and improve their daily performance in space.

Thumbnail Image for Babs Soller: Remote Sensors for Medical Feedback Podcast Plus

Monitoring Blood and Tissue Chemistry at a Distance

Learn about a system being developed to enable astronauts to measure metabolic rates and blood/tissue chemistry, in real time.

Thumbnail Image for Benjamin Levine: Staying Fit in Space Podcast Plus

Staying Fit in Space

Without good stress, muscles atrophy and bones demineralize. How can astronauts maintain fitness during space missions? What are the best exercises?

Thumbnail Image for David Dinges: Gauging Effects of Fatigue and Stress Podcast Plus

Testing Astronaut Stress and Fatigue

Scientists are developing a test to help astronauts measure their own fatigue and stress levels, and gauge their fitness to perform critical tasks in space.

Additional Resources

Thumbnail Image for Rockets Teacher Guide

Rockets: Educator’s Guide

Lessons and hands-on activities that enable students to examine the history, science, technology, engineering and mathematics of rockets and rocketry.

Thumbnail Image for Rockets: Force and Motion Video

Rockets: Force and Motion

Basic information about how rockets work, and how astronauts and plant experiments are launched into space.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.