In-Depth

50 Years Later, What Do Today’s Kids Think About The First Moon Landing?

The old equipment used during the moon landing can be baffling to youngsters raised on digital technology. But they have lots of ideas on how to make the trip better if they ever get to go themselves.

It’s been fifty years since Mission Control in Houston guided astronauts on their first-ever trip to the moon. It was an awe-inspiring experience for kids in particular as they gathered around the TV to watch the grainy black-and-white broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969.

But what was considered the height of technology in the 1960s is now the stuff of history books. So that got us thinking: How do kids today learn about the moon landing and how do teachers make it relevant?

Our first stop was the University of Houston’s charter elementary school, where a group of students were trying their hand at building a lunar base out of colorful Legos. Second-grader Evangeline Santana showed us the tiny rover she devised to transport any alien creatures they might come across. If they get hungry, Evangeline said, they could eat hamburgers from McDonald’s that are transported from earth.

Now while her plan may need a little more work, teacher Susan Lockwood said these kinds of exercises can really get children thinking.

“When they have hands-on things to do like building the moon with Legos they learn a lot better and then they come up with questions,” said Lockwood.

Like his classmates at Houston’s Harmony School of Endeavor, 14-year-old Gary Gordon has lived his entire life in the digital age. He said going to the moon with that old technology is pretty daunting to think about.

“The computers would take up an entire room, but they had smaller data capacity than a regular phone so they had to really stretch out how much stuff they could do with that little data,” said Gary.

And 14-year-old Clarissa Delgado wondered how things would be different today on a higher-tech moon mission.

“The way that we would discover things, maybe we would discover things that not only we did not know before, but things we had already discovered but find out more things about it,” said Clarissa.

Harmony Vice-Principal DeShanna King-Seifert has participated in teacher training at the Johnson Space Center. She said to help kids understand the technological constraints of those early missions, you have to put them in the mindset of the original space pioneers.

“Imagine you only have these materials available to you and you can’t use a computer, you can’t use a phone, you can’t use any of those things,” said King-Seifert. “You just simply have to build it by hand and actually doing it, experiential learning, is really the best way for them to grasp that concept.”

At Space Center Houston, which is right next door to NASA’s old mission control facility, kids learn all about those concepts. We got a tour from Daniel Newmeyer, Space Center Houston’s Vice-President of Education.

Newmeyer said when kids peep inside the tiny interior of the old Apollo 17 space capsule they ask about the same things as the students we met earlier: How did the astronauts function without all the devices that the average person today has right in their pockets?

“A key thing is to teach them that the technology that was developed in the early space race directly ties to the advancements with the cell phone and with tremendous number of other products and technology,” said Newmeyer.

But Newmeyer said he likes to emphasize to kids that there’s still a lot we don’t know, and they could have the same kind of achievement as those early space explorers.

Some of that innovation could be starting back at the UH Charter School where Susan Lockwood’s students are hard at work on that Lego moon base.

“They can be the first person to do something,” said Lockwood. “They can build things that no one has built before. So that’s probably just one of the biggest things. We can move forward still. We have a lot of technology, but there are a lot of things we can still do.”

And that lunar rover that transports fast food? It just might be a thing someday.

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Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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