Teacher Background

Unit Plan

Student Journal

The Race for Space Banner

Grade 6-8 | 4 (45 min) Classes

In this lesson, students will be introduced to the Space Race. They will conduct independent research to create a timeline of important events in the race to space and beyond. Students will build and launch their own model rocket.


Targeted Performance Expectation(s):

Common Core Standards - English


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.


Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

Common Core Standards - Social Studies


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.


Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.


Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.



Ideological and political rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1947 – 1991.


A private aerospace company founded by Elon Musk with the mission of reducing space travel costs to allow Mar colonization.


A private aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos with the mission of reducing space travel costs and creating reusable launch vehicles.


The initial NASA program that resulted in the first American astronauts in space.


The second NASA program that developed technologies and techniques for the Apollo Mission.


The NASA program that resulted in the American astronauts to be the first humans to walk on the moon.

Teacher Background

The Race to the Moon

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union (which later becomes Russia) successfully launched the first artificial satellite into orbit in space– Sputnik. Sputnik was a 23-inch metal sphere with 4 radio antennae sending signals from space back to Earth. The creation and launch of Sputnik was a significant achievement for mankind but it incited fear in the United States (U.S.).


Twelve years before Sputnik, the United States and its allies (including the Soviet Union) defeated Germany to end World War II. Since then, the United States and the Soviet Union developed a strong ideological and political rivalry which created heightened tensions and resulted in the Cold War. The United States worried that if the Soviet Union could launch a satellite in space, they might have the capability to send a nuclear weapon towards them. The United States wanted to remain technological leaders and did not want to fall behind their rival.


The United States government ultimately established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 to create an aeronautics and space program. Mercury missions (1961-1963) were the first missions that ended with the successful launch and return of a man from space. Although the Mercury missions were successful, the Soviet Union had already launched the first human into space – the U.S. remained a step behind. In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy challenged NASA to land a man on the Moon and return them safely to the Earth before 1970. The next set of missions (Gemini, 1961-1966) developed techniques and technologies that would enable a person to land on the moon. Apollo missions (1969-1972) moved the United States closer to President Kennedy’s goal and on July 20, 1969, the United States stepped foot on the moon.

The Race to Beyond

Since 1969 and the first human steps on the moon, research and exploration into space has continued to grow. The same year the United States were on the moon, the Soviet Union created the first basic space station. Since then, additional space stations were created until the current International Space Station (ISS). Construction on the ISS began in 1998 and it took over 10 years, 30 missions, and 15 countries (including the United States and now Russia) to create the football-field sized station that is orbiting 250 miles above earth with a permanent crew. The ISS is the host to several international research labs from a wide variety of fields such as astronomy, meteorology, and medicine.


Aerospace research today is seeking planets beyond Earth’s moon by developing innovative and affordable rocket technology. Private companies outside of NASA have even started to create and launch their own rockets. SpaceX became the first private company to launch astronauts on a reusable rocket in 2020. The following year, Blue Origin was the first company to launch private citizens (not astronauts) into orbit. With costs dropping and excitement for what lies beyond the moon growing, space exploration is becoming bigger than ever. Will Earth’s moon eventually have a colony? Will humans reach Mars? A new era of space exploration is happening now and students have the chance to be a part of it by first learning where it all started.


Star Hopper (one per student)

Engines (one per rocket)

Launch System (one per 10 students)

Poster paper, markers, pencils, etc.

Star Hopper Model Rocket Build Video (optional)

Unit Plan

You must be logged in to download

Student Journal

You must be logged in to download

Shopping cart close