December 10, 2014

3D Printing the Voyager Probe

For the last few years I have been reading a book to my class called Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley. It’s a good story about a boy who is really interested in space and struggles with losing his father in the Vietnam War. I probably like it even more because I have many connections to it (something I try to model for my students). I didn’t lose a father in the Vietnam War, but the story takes place around the time I was born, it has an emphasis on science and space, and the main character has an older sister that reminds me of my sister.

Aside from personal connections, it is rich in topics that are relevant today. And with technology, this story can really come to life in the classroom. Greetings from Planet Earth takes place the year the Voyager Probes were launched. The main character (Theo) is given an assignment to answer some deep questions that his science teacher asked. The fact that there is an emphasis on the Voyager Probes is really exciting for us today. The Voyager Probes are in the news again,36 years later, as they are leaving the solar system and becoming the first man made objects to reach interstellar space. They are still sending information back to Earth. My students love learning about this mission.

Another aspect of the story is how Theo has a collection of models. Most of them are rockets from the Apollo missions but they play an important part of the story. It is not too much of a stretch to have my students create their own models and 3D print them. Especially since a 3D printer is now on board the International Space Station. I am eagerly waiting for the files that are being printed in space to be available for us to download.

We have not created our own models yet, and I’m not sure that I will have time for the students to really study the Apollo rockets. However, NASA has a wonderful website where anyone can download files that are ready for 3D printing. We immediately downloaded a model of the Voyager Probe and printed it.

3D printing a model of the Voyager Space Probe.

3D printing a model of the Voyager Space Probe.

Now the students have a model of the actual probe that they can touch and look at. The print didn’t come out with the greatest detail, but I am confident that future prints of the model will have better detail.

This book has many more connections to the present and future of space travel. I will write more about what my students learn from this book, how it connects to 3D printing, and other current events as we read it in class.

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