Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Moonward Bound

The Space Race

Daniel Schwarz, Bradly Cusack, Ryan Rahhal | Published: March 31st, 2023 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 10th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 100 minutes
  • Duration More 2 periods


This lesson focuses on events that led up to and occurred during the "Space Race" between the United States (U.S.) and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic (U.S.S.R.). The lesson introduces students to the astronauts, cosmonauts, scientists, and politicians who played pivotal roles on both sides. Students explore an interactive timeline to gain an understanding of the events that transpired in both nations over the course of the Space Race. They will also watch and analyze an ICAP interview with aerospace engineer Donna Shirley, who was a manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. In the interview, Shirley discusses her experiences in school and on the job.

Essential Question(s)

What was the Space Race? What was its impact on the U.S. and the world?



Students assess their prior knowledge of the Space Race using the 30-Second Expert instructional strategy.


Students analyze quotes about the Space Race using the S-I-T instructional strategy.


Students examine a Space Race timeline and record their observations using the Fishbone instructional strategy.


Students watch an interview with the famous aeronautical engineer Donna Shirley, in which she speaks about her experiences in school and on the job. Students reflect on the video by completing a 3-2-1 activity.


Students link what they have learned to current events by responding to an Exit Ticket prompt.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • S-I-T handout (attached; one per student)

  • Moonward Bound Timeline (linked)

  • Fishbone note catcher handout (attached; one per student)

  • Pencils or pens

  • Notebook paper

  • Student computers or tablets

  • Internet access


15 Minute(s)

Use the attached lesson slides to guide the lesson. Review the essential questions on slide 3 and the lesson objectives on slide 4.

Move to slide 5 and introduce the 30-Second Expert strategy. Ask students to draw a T-chart and label one side “What I know about this topic” and the other “What my partner knows about this topic.”

Show slide 6 and give students about 5 minutes to write down all they know about the Space Race in the left column. Next, give them another 5 minutes to share with a partner. Ask them to fill out the right side of their T-chart as they discuss with their partner.

Once students have finished the exercise, call on a few volunteers and ask them to share what they know about the Space Race and what they learned from their partners about it.


15 Minute(s)

Show slide 7 and introduce the S-I-T strategy. Distribute the Moonward Bound S-I-T handout. The handout contains a list of quotes relating to the Space Race that were taken from oral history interviews and other sources.

Give student groups at least 10 minutes to read through the quotes together. Then, ask groups to use the S-I-T strategy to discuss whether the information presented in each quote strikes them as surprising, interesting, or troubling, and why.

After groups have had time to discuss, call on a member of each group to share at least one of the quotes they found surprising, interesting, or troubling. Invite student groups to share their reasoning with the class.


45 Minute(s)

Assign each student the number 1, 2, or 3. Tell students that they will be exploring a portion of an interactive timeline that documents the entire history of the Space Race, and the number they have been assigned will determine the portion of the timeline that they will be exploring. All groups will be reading the first three entries of the timeline that explain the events between 1945-1955 that led up to the start of the Space Race. The groups will then be tasked with exploring events from the following time periods in the timeline:

  • Group 1: July 30, 1955 - Jan. 31, 1961

  • Group 2: April 12, 1961 - June 3, 1965

  • Group 3: Feb. 3, 1966 - July 17, 1975.

Show slide 8 and introduce the Fishbone instructional strategy. Distribute the Fishbone handout and direct students to the Space Race timeline. Explain to students that they will have about 15 minutes to read their assigned portions of the timeline. Encourage them to take notes either on the back of the Fishbone handout or on a separate piece of paper. 

  1. Once students have finished taking notes, move to slide 9 and tell students to write down in the “Moon” space of the handout what they think the key outcome was for both countries during the time period they have just researched.

  2. Next, instruct students to list in each of the three spaces above the “Rocket” a different factor that contributed to the outcome they have identified.

  3. Have them write examples next to each factor to demonstrate how that factor led to the outcome.

  4. Instruct students to repeat this process in the bottom three spaces below the rocket for the U.S.S.R.

  5. Give students at least 15 more minutes to complete this part of the activity. 

After students have had time to explore and take notes on their own, allow them about 5 minutes to meet with their groups to share what they wrote in their handouts. Then, engage in a full class discussion, and invite a representative from each group to share the most significant takeaways from each group.


15 Minute(s)

Display slide 10, which contains an introduction slide for the interview with the aeronautical engineer, Donna Shirley. Briefly review the details with students. 

Use the link on slide 11 to play the ICAP interview for students.

Among other things, Donna Shirley describes her determination to pursue a career in aerodynamics, despite the fact that some people told her that being a woman would make her ineligible in that field. She also talks about the many triumphs and occasional failures she experienced while working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and ultimately as the Manager of the Mars Exploration Program.

As students watch the interview, they should keep the following 3-2-1 questions in mind:

  • What are 3 things you learned about having a career in the aeronautics industry?

  • What are 2 things you would do if you wanted to pursue a career in a STEM field, such as aeronautical engineer?

  • What is 1 thing Shirley said that really resonated with you?

Display slide 12. Remind students of the questions and give them about five minutes to write down their answers. Spend another five minutes inviting students to share their responses with the rest of the class.


10 Minute(s)

Show slide 13 and introduce students to the Exit Ticket strategy.

Have students write a 1–2 paragraph on a separate sheet of paper a response to the following prompt: “NASA has announced the start of the Artemis program, which may have people landing on the Moon as soon as 2027. Do you think we should go back to the Moon?”

Have students turn in their exit ticket on the way out.


K20 Center. (2020, September 16). Bell ringers and exit tickets. Strategies.

K20 Center. (2021, July 19). Fishbone. Strategies. 

K20 Center. (2023, March 7). K20 ICAP - Moonward bound [Video]. YouTube.

K20 Center. (2023, March 7). Moonward bound timeline.

K20 Center. (2021, February 12). S-I-T (Surprising, interesting, troubling). Strategies. 

K20 Center. (2021, July 30). 30-second expert. Strategies. 

K20 Center. (2022, May 10). 30-second expert - LEARN instructional strategy [Video]. YouTube.

K20 Center. (2020, September 16). 3-2-1. Strategies.

Shirley, D. (1999). Managing Martians: A memoir. Broadway Books.