The Story of Grace Hopper for Kids

Has your curiosity ever gotten you in trouble? Maybe you took something apart or made a mess while you were trying to find out how it worked, or maybe you’ve asked a grown-up a question they didn’t know how to answer. If so, don’t feel bad about yourself! You have something in common with some of the smartest and most innovative people in history, including the subject of today’s episode, Grace Murray Hopper. 

Grace was born and raised in New York City, and she was a very curious child. Her family had a large summer home, which they shared with her many cousins. Each of the seven bedrooms in the house had an alarm clock, and every evening, Grace’s mother would set each alarm clock. This was the early twentieth century, so these weren’t the kind of alarm your parents might have on their phone, or even a digital alarm clock. These were old-fashioned clocks with gears in them and two bells on top. When the alarm rang, a small hammer would go back and forth, quickly hitting the bells and making a loud, high-pitched ring. This kind of ringing was impossible to sleep through! If you imagine what an old-fashioned fire alarm might sound like, it would be similar to that. 

Grace was fascinated by the alarm clocks, and wanted to know how they worked. So she took one apart! But looking at the pile of gears, springs, and hands, in front of her, she still wasn’t sure. 

So she took apart another. 

Then another. 

Eventually, Grace took apart all seven alarm clocks, trying to figure out how all the tiny, complicated pieces worked together. Her mother wasn’t exactly happy about all the alarm clocks in the house being broken, but she was understanding, and she let Grace keep one clock to study.

Grace’s father also supported Grace’s curiosity. He encouraged her and her sister to get as much education as they could so they could support themselves. This was not common for girls in the early 1900s. Grace especially loved math and geometry. She used geometry to draw pictures. This is a fun way to use math – try to see what you can draw some time just using the basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. If you look around, you’ll notice these shapes, along with angles, lines, curves, and other things that can be described with numbers, in many things you see every day.

Grace worked hard in school, and was almost able to start college when she was sixteen! Why almost? Her test scores in math were very high, but her scores in Latin were too low. But, just as she had done with the alarm clocks, Grace didn’t quit trying after one failure. She tried again, and was able to start college the next year at seventeen. She graduated with degrees in math and physics in 1928. She went on to get a PhD in math at Yale in 1934. Eventually, she became a math professor at Vassar College.

When World War II started, Grace tried to join the Navy, which had just started accepting women. Her grandfather had been in the Navy, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. But the Navy wouldn’t take Grace! Their reasons for rejecting her were not what you might think: they said she was valuable to the war effort as a math professor; she was too thin for her height; and she was too old at 34. This shows us another important lesson: people often don’t say no to you because they don’t like you. They might say no because of rules they have to follow, or because you’re too important! Not a bad reason to be rejected, right?

But knowing Grace, you can probably guess that this rejection didn’t hold her back. She tried again. Grace took a leave of absence from her job as a professor and volunteered for the Naval Reserves. She had to get special permission due to her weight being too low, but she got to serve in the Navy and support the war effort, just like she wanted. Not only that, she was at the top of her class in the training program! The Navy sent her to Harvard University to work on the first computer made in the United States, the Mark I.

Grace worked on programming the Mark I to help the navy solve problems on their ships. Programming a computer means giving it instructions so it will do what you want it to do. You might be wondering why Grace was given a job programming computers. But, have you ever thought about why a computer is called a computer? Well, it’s because their original purpose was to compute things, to do complex math that humans can’t do quickly. The navy used the Mark I to help them track the location of enemy ships and submarines. It could perform math quickly, and never made mistakes like human mathematicians sometimes do. But, the Mark I did need humans to tell it exactly what math to do, and that was Grace’s job. 

Early computers were programmed using numbers and symbols. You had to understand a lot of mathematics to program a computer, which is why many early programmers like Grace, had degrees in math. Programming was complicated and it was easy to make mistakes, even for an expert. So Grace would save pieces of programs that did specific things so she could use them again in new programs. She also developed a system that allowed the computer to find these pieces of code without her having to input all of it again.

After the war, in 1949, Grace went to work at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Here, she worked on Univac, the first computer in the United States to be sold to businesses for general purposes. This got her thinking about what people were trying to do with computers, and she realized not everyone could get their job done using only the language of math, numbers and symbols. Grace thought there should be computer programming languages that were based on the English language. This would make it easier for more people to learn to program and use computers to help them do their jobs. But, in order to create this kind of programming language, she also needed to invent the technology to translate English-based commands into the mathematical language that computers understood.

And that’s exactly what Grace did! She called her translator a compiler. If you want to imagine what a compiler does, think of all the word problems you’ve seen in your math books. You might have a problem like:

“Dan has seven apples. He gives three of them to Isaac. How many apples does Dan have left?”

The English words in this sentence give us clues about what kind of math problem we need to do. We know that the special words seven and three are numbers. We know if someone gives something away, they will have fewer of that thing. This gives us a clue that we need to subtract to find the answer. Once we think it through a bit, we can figure out that we need to write a math problem, “seven minus three equals” and then compute the answer. A compiler does something similar: it has a set of rules it uses to take the commands and translate them into numbers. The rules are more complicated than the subtraction word problem we just talked about, but the idea is similar.   

At first, the men Grace worked with thought this idea was crazy. But she kept working on her ideas for years, and eventually, others who worked with computers accepted them. Grace also reached her goal of inventing the first programming language based on English words, rather than numbers and symbols. This new language became known as COBOL. It was used for decades, and is even still used today. More importantly, COBOL inspired many other computer scientists to invent new programming languages based on human language to solve different types of problems. Today there are dozens of languages, and millions of people who learn and use them everyday. 

Later Grace returned to working for the Navy. After a long career, she reached the rank of rear admiral. At the time, she was one of the highest ranking women in the Navy. She retired in 1986 at the age of 80, but even after retiring, she continued to work. She was always eager to help young people learn about computers and programming, and aside from inventing the compiler, she said this was one of her greatest accomplishments.

Grace used to have a clock on her office wall. It was the kind of clock with hands that tick off the hours, seconds and minutes, just like the alarm clocks she took apart as a child. But this clock was unique: its hands went around in the opposite direction from other clocks. Instead of going clockwise, her clock went counter-clockwise! Even though the clock went backwards, it still ticked off the hours and minutes reliably, and gave the right time. 

Grace said this clock was a reminder that you don’t have to do things the same way everyone else is doing them. If you think you have a different or better way to do something, you should try it, even if others don’t understand at first. And as she showed so many times in her life, don’t just try once. Try over and over again until you get it! If you have a good idea and work hard to make it a reality, other people will eventually notice. 

Grace never gave up when she had a goal or a  great idea, even when others around her didn’t support her. She kept working on her ideas, and showing her work to others, until they had to listen, and, often, had to admit she’d been right all along! She knew that good ideas didn’t always fit the way people had done things in the past. They might even seem a little crazy at first. But without crazy new ideas we wouldn’t make any progress.

Sources

https://stories.vassar.edu/2017/assets/images/170706-legacy-of-grace-hopper-hopperpdf.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

The History of the Pyramids of Egypt for Kids

Imagine the year is 1932 and you are in Egypt with a team of archaeologists exploring the ancient pyramids.  As you enter a dark dark hallway, you use torches to light the way.  Ahead is your guide, a local Egyptian, who is showing the way deeper and deeper into the pyramid.  It is dark and you are scared, but you keep going.  The hallway smells very musty; there has not been fresh air in this hallway for many years.  As you turn a corner, you see the door to a tomb.  You push back stones and other debris and after pushing forward with your torch, the next room lights up and it is overflowing with ancient treasures. You can’t believe your eyes! You see gold and gems and more artifacts than you’d ever have imagined. And lying in the center is the greatest discovery of all — a mummified Egyptian king! 

The Egyptian Pyramids are some of the most amazing man-made structures in history. At the time that they were built, Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world.  A civilization is the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area. The Egyptian pyramids were built over 4,000 years ago, but they still remain a mysterious and amazing piece of history. They also give us an idea of the wealth and glory of Ancient Egypt.

Thousands of years ago, Egypt was a poor country.  Then it started to grow in population and wealth around 3,000 BC. The Nile River is how Egypt became more wealthy as it could farm using the river and trade with other peoples. As Egypts power and wealth grew, so did the power and wealth of its kings. Kings in ancient Egypt held a unique position.  They were seen as being ½ human and ½ god. The Egyptian people believed that the king was someone who was chosen by the gods to work between the gods and people on earth. 

Ancient Egyptians believed that when the king died, part of his spirit remained in his body. Because they saw the king as working with the gods, they believed they needed to take care of the king’s body after his death and preserve it as much as possible. This is why the ancient Egyptians started to make mummies.  They wrapped the king’s bodies to keep it safe. Mummies are bodies of a human beings or animals that have been preserved.

After a king died, the Egyptian people mummified the body and buried the king with the things that they thought he would need in the afterlife.  This included gold, food and other valuable things. The Egyptians believed that the riches would go to the afterlife with the king and that the king could use the things he was buried with to care for himself and his relatives in the afterlife.

Around 5,000 years ago Egyptian people began creating royal tombs called “mastabas”, which came before the pyramids.  Mastabas were caves carved into rock and covered with a flat-rock roof.  Egyptians at the time put the mummified dead body of a king after he had passed away into the mastabas and covered it with the flat rock roof.  This became a preserved little room for the mummy and his things before he moved to the afterlife.

Eventually mastabas were made into bigger structures that were more beautiful and could house more things.  

In 2630 B.C., an architect and priest named Imhotep designed a mastaba for the King Djoser.  It was build up into a small “step pyramid” and was later considered to be the oldest known pyramid in Egypt.  It was built in the city of Saqqara.  At that time, king’s usually started the building of their masabas while they were still alive and would oversee the work.  King Djoser asked Imhotep to design this structure, which pyramid builders then put together.  It had six stepped layers of stone and was 204 feet or 62 meters high.  It was the tallest building of its time.

After King Djoser, the stepped pyramid became popular and Egyptian kings going forward had similar buildings constructed. Because these tombs were built while the kings were still alive, and ancient Egyptians lived much shorter lives than people do today, pyramids were often started for kings but not finished. Many kings died before they were complete, and the project would then be abandoned.

The first smooth-sided pyramid was built in Dahshur for King Sneferu in the late 2500s B.C.  It was called the Red Pyramid because of the colour of the blocks used to build the pyramid’s core. Pyramid’s started to be built with smooth angled sides to symbolize rays of sun.  They were designed to help the king go up to heaven and join the gods after they died.

The most famous pyramids in the world today are the Great Pyramids of Giza.  They are located near the Nile River in Cairo city. The oldest and biggest of the three Giza pyramids is the “Great Pyramid”.  It was built for King Khufu around 2570 B.C. It was originally 481.4 feet or 147 meters tall and is the largest pyramid in the world.  Do you know why there are three small pyramids lined up next to the Great Pyramid?  They were built for King Khufu’s queens. Ancient Egyptians usually built mastabas close to their family so that they could be with each other and support each other in the afterlife.

The middle pyramid at Giza was built for King Khufu’s son. This is the pyramid on which the Great Sphinx is carved.  The Great Sphinx is a carved statue of a man’s head with the body of a lion. It was a guardian for the King’s son’s tomb and was also the image of the god Horus.

The third of the Great Pyramids was built for the King’s grandson. It is the shortest of the three Great Pyramids. Later, future kings started to build their pyramids smaller than the Great Pyramid, and would build them closer in size to this smaller one.

Have you ever thought about the incredible amount of work and high level of design that would be required to successfully build a pyramid? For the Great Pyramid, about 2.3 million blocks of stone had to be cut and carried to the site.  It took 20 years to build the biggest of the pyramids and 20,000 to 100,000 men worked on it!

Beginning in about 2350 B.C., pyramid builders began to write about things that happened during the king’s life on the walls of the king’s tomb.  These were inscribed “hieroglyphics” or ancient symbols or writing.

From 2300 to 2100 B.C., pyramids continued to be built in Egypt but they were usually smaller and less well built than the earlier pyramids. This was because the wealth and power of the Egyptian kings was less and less during this time. The last king that built pyramids in ancient Egypt was Pepy II.  He became king when he was just a young boy and he ruled for 94 years. He built a shorter pyramid at Saqqara before his death.  After he died, the wealth of Egypt was getting smaller and people no longer saw the king’s as half-gods as they used to. 

In later years, Egyptian kings’ built pyramids again but they were never as big or amazing as the great pyramids.  But the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian pyramids carried on and still interests people around the world today. Most of the bodies and treasures from the old pyramids have been removed now, either by tomb raiders or by people wanting to protect them.  You can find some of these items in museums today. Millions of people continue to visit the pyramids each year to see these amazing structures that teach about Egypt’s rich and amazing past. 

Take some time to think about what it took to build these pyramids. The architects who built them had to understand math and physics and spent a lot of time drawing out plans and preparing before anyone started moving stones. Imagine the hard work and determination it took to work on these pyramids for many years. You should try designing your own pyramid with a pencil and paper. What would it look like? How many rooms would it have inside? Would it have any secret passages. 

Also, would you like to travel to Egypt one day and see the Great Pyramids?  Maybe someday you will travel to Egypt and step inside one of these amazing historical structures!

The History of The Eiffel Tower for Kids

Imagine yourself standing at the top of a tall building, one that is the most famous building in the world.  You look out on all sides and can see the whole city around you.  There are old fashioned buildings and cars.  People are walking and talking together.  Some people are riding bikes and some ride on boats that are floating along on the river below you.  The boats disappear for a second as they cross beneath below you.  But they reappear again and cruise slowly along their way.  You are in Paris and the building you are visiting is the Eiffel Tower. 

There are many important and famous buildings in the world but one of the most famous, loved by people everywhere is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You have probably heard of the Eiffel Tower before, but have you ever wondered how it was made? Or why? 

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 and is now the most recognizable building in the world.  Can you imagine what it would have taken to build something like this in the old days?  When it was first built, many local people in Paris were not sure that they would like it.  They doubted that it would be a good building and some did not want it to be built in their city. 

The idea for the Eiffel Tower came about as part of the planning for the World’s Fair in 1889.  Paris was the host of the World’s Fair that year to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution.  The City of Paris wanted to host a memorable event and wow the crowds that would come there.  Memorable means something worth remembering because it is special.

The City asked for designers and artists to create plans for a monument for the city to mark the event.  A monument is a statue, building, or other structure that is meant to be a symbol for something. In this case, it was meant to be a symbol marking the World Fair.  More than 100 artists submitted plans for the monument.  It was going to be built on a famous street called the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris.  It was going to be the entrance to the fair when it started.

The winning company was a consulting and construction firm owned by an architect named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. An architect is a person who designs buildings and often oversees their construction.

While Mr. Eiffel often receives credit for designing the Eiffel Tower, it was actually one of his employees, an engineer named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with the idea. The design idea came to him because a few years before that, the two men had bought the metal and he had been trying to find a project they could use it for.

The final design for the Eiffel Tower required more than 18,000 pieces iron and 2.5 million rivets. Rivets are short metal pins used for holding together two plates of metal. Several hundred workers spent two years putting together the frame of the tower.  When it was finished it was almost 1,000 feet high and was the tallest structure in the world at the time. It weighs around 10,000 tonnes!

At the time of the World’s Fair, the tower was lit up by hundreds of game lamps and a beacon sent out beams of red, white and blue. Searchlights from the tower illuminated different parts of the fair. The start and end of the fair each day was announced by a cannon explosion from the top. 

At the top the set up a post office where visitors to the fair could send postcards to friends and family. Many famous people visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair. These included the Prince of Wales, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison, an engineer himself was particularly impressed with the tower. 

There were also millions of regular people who visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair and afterwards. Many were very impressed with it, but some were not.  Some people who lived in Paris thought that it changed the way the city looked and thought it was ugly.

At first, only the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor platform was open to the public.  Today, all the levels are open and two of them even have restaurants.  The first two levels can be accessed by stairs, but the top, third level, requires taking an elevator to get to.

When the Eiffel Tower was originally built, it was meant to be a temporary building for the World’s Fair that would be torn down later.  However, the city realized that it could be used as a radio tower and so they decided to keep it.  Many years later, the Eiffel Tower was used to intercept enemy radio communications during the first world war. 

Throughout the years, the Eiffel Tower has been used for many important ceremonies and events.  It has also appeared in many, many movies.  It has become such a popular building that there are now more than 30 structures around the world that are copies of the Eiffel Tower design, including one in Las Vegas.

In 1986, the Eiffel Tower was renovated.  Renovated means to restore something so that it looks nice.  It is now repainted every seven years to keep it looking fresh.  Every time it is repainted, it uses 50 tonnes of paint!.  

Every year more than 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower.  It is the most frequently visited structure in the world. The French name for the Eiffel Tower is “La Tour Eiffel”, it also has the nickname “La dame de fer” which means the iron lady.

There are more than 500 people who work at the Eiffel Tower.  They work in its restaurants and maintaining its safety and security.  There are people who clean it and there are people that run the elevator that takes visitors to the top.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can look out and see the beautiful view of Paris.  People from all over the world come not only to look at the Eiffel Tower, but also to ride to the top and see the beautiful city of Paris, which is also called the City of Lights.

Have you ever been to the Eiffel Tower?  Would you like to visit it one day?  If you want to visit somewhere like this, keep the vision of it in your mind.  There are many people who have dreamed of visiting the Eiffel Tower with someone they love or on their own and have made it happen by saving money and making plans to visit.  Can you picture yourself standing on the top of the tower and looking out on the beautiful view?  Hopefully you will get a chance to visit one day.

Alternative Energy for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine that you’re living in a futuristic city. Looking at the horizon, you can see towering wind turbines gently rotating in the wind. On the other side, you can see a whole field of solar panels. A nearby dam uses river water to produce even more electricity. The air you breathe is clean and fresh. The cars and other vehicles don’t give off any smoke or pollution. Your surroundings are clean and green, with plants growing all around you. Far away, you can see an old power plant, which is being demolished to make way for new, alternative energy sources. You can also see several large factories nearby, but none of them are emitting black smoke! This is what a city looks like where alternative energy rules the world .

So, what actually is alternative energy? As you may know, today we rely almost completely on petroleum and coal-based energy sources which are called fossil fuels. Energy companies obtain these resources from deep inside the earth’s surface and refine it to produce different fuels, like gas, gasoline, diesel and kerosene. These fuels are burned in power plants to produce electricity. Petroleum was formed by the remains of tiny plants and animals that died millions of years ago. Coal, on the other hand, was formed by larger plants like ferns. These dead materials were covered by layers of mud, rock, and soil over the years. Because of the pressure caused by all the top layers and the heat from earth’s core, the plant and animal remains transformed into petroleum and coal.  Because it took millions of years for petroleum and coal to form, this means that the amount of fossil fuel resources in the world are limited and won’t last forever. Since the number of people in the world  and businesses  in the world keep increasing and advancing, the need  for energy is also rising.  This is why finding new ways to harness energy is so important! Luckily, the world already has a lot of alternative energy sources and smart scientists and engineers are always working on finding new ways to harness energy and improve the technology we already have.

The alternative sources of energy include solar power, wind power, hydro power, tidal energy, geothermal energy, and biomass energy. These are called renewable energy, because they are naturally replenished in a short amount of time unlike petroleum. For example, there’s always more sun and wind! 

First let’s talk about solar energy. Solar energy is the energy we get from the sun. The sun is an incredibly huge, ball of energy which lights Earth with its rays we receive as sunlight. For thousands of years, people have used the sun’s energy to cook food, dry clothes, and keep warm. In our day, people have invented technologies to transform sunlight or solar energy into electrical power. This is done by solar cells, which are also called “photovoltaic” cells. “Photo” means “light” in Latin and “voltaic” stands for “electricity”. So, it’s basically turning sunlight into electricity! Pretty amazing, right? Solar panels are made by putting together many solar cells. If you’ve ever seen shiny panels on rooftops, those are solar panels. A few of my neighbors have them. In Arizona, solar panels are popular because we get LOTS of sunshine. It can also save people money, because the panels capture the light energy from the sun and turn it into electricity that can be used to power all the electric equipment in their house. Solar panels are sometimes used to power boats, food trucks, buildings, and satellites. Although solar energy IS renewable, how much energy they can produce depends on the time of day, season of the year and location in the world. For example, Arizona is much better for solar panels than a place like England that is often cloudy.

Now, let’s talk about wind energy. Wind energy is made from the wind, which is freely available to us just like sunlight. During the middle ages, people used wind power to pump water or grind grains. They built windmills to do that. Nowadays, people use a large structure called a wind turbine to make electricity using wind power. You may have seen these wind turbines as very tall structures that have long blades to capture the wind. Wind turbines can be around 400 feet tall, because the turbine blades need to reach high up into the atmosphere where the wind is faster than on the ground. The power of the wind is transformed into electricity by a small machine called a turbine generator which is connected to the turbine blades. Energy companies build hundreds of wind turbines in large fields where there are a lot of wind. These areas covered with wind turbines are called “wind farms”. When our family drives to California we pass through a huge wind farm. If you’ve never seen a wind farm look up pictures of San Gorgonio Pass. It’s pretty amazing.

The next form of alternative energy is hydropower or hydro energy and is made by using the power of moving water. In the past, people have used the power of water by making water wheels in rivers. Ancient Egyptians used hydro energy to grind grains and early Americans used it to saw wood. In the 1800’s, scientists discovered how to make electrical energy using hydro energy by turning the turbines of a generator. So, it works a little bit like wind power. To harness hydro energy today, people build a dam across a river which creates a water reservoir, which is like a man-made lake. By making a reservoir, we can have a controlled flow of water which can be used to generate electricity. That is, powerplant workers can control the amount and speed of the water flowing out of the dam. So, unlike solar or wind energy, hydro power is more constant and controllable. In Arizona we have the Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam that generate a ton of electricity using hydro power. Be sure to lookup pictures of these impressive dams.

Tidal power is another type of hydro power. But instead of using inland waters like rivers and reservoirs, the energy of seawater is used to make electricity from tidal energy. Ocean tides usually occur twice daily, and tidal powerplants use turbine generators to convert that energy into electricity. Tidal turbines are placed in the path of the tidal waves. When the waves hit the turbine blades, they begin to spin. This movement is transformed into electric power using the turbine generators. So, you can see that the design of wind turbines and hydro turbines are very similar. However, tidal power can change based on the season. We cannot control it like how we control the power generated from a reservoir.

Geothermal energy is a form of alternative energy, that is obtained from the earth’s core. You may already know that the core of the earth is packed with heat. You can sometimes see this heat coming out of volcanoes and geysers. Geothermal energy can be used for heating, cooking and in electricity generation. We get it by circulating water or other liquids through underground tubes. The liquids absorb the geothermal heat and bring it back up. The captured heat can be directly used for heating. It can also be used to produce electricity using steam turbines.

Another really interesting form of alternative energy is biomass. Biomass is  biological materials such as sugar cane, straw, wood chips and many other plant materials. These can be burned to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels. Biomass can also be used to make other types of fuel such as diesel and biogas that can replace petroleum-based fuels. This makes biomass different and more important than the other types of alternative energy we discussed. That’s because biomass can be used to produce solid, liquid and gaseous forms of energy instead of just electricity. 

It’s pretty exciting to consider all of the new forms of energy that have been developed over the last 100 years and the improvements that are happening every day. Does alternative energy interest you? If so, do an internet search to watch videos of some of the amazing things people are doing to use renewable energy and what is being done at places like wind and solar farms. Also, more and more engineers and inventors are needed to solve the energy problems we have. Does engineering interest you? If so, math and science are important subjects to improve at. Also, being creative and coming up with lots of ideas. Can you think of an interesting way to use alternative energy to power something you use everyday?

With all of the new inventions, we have more and more options and not one of them is perfect, so many people believe a combination of technologies will solve the problems of pollution while sustaining all of our energy needs. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, so we need to find ways we can all live here and have enough energy without polluting this precious gift we can be given. 

History of Thomas Edison for Kids

Take a moment to cover your ears so you can’t hear anything.

How does it feel to not be able to hear anything? It would be difficult to know what was going on and to be able to communicate with others, right?

Tonight, we are going to talk about a very successful businessman and an inventor who on his twelfth birthday developed hearing problems and became completely deaf in one ear. Thomas Edison. 

Thomas Alva Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. But, in 1854, his family decided to move to Port Huron, Michigan where he was raised.

Thomas was the seventh child and the youngest in his family. Edison was home-schooled by his mother. He attended public school but only for a short period. 

For whatever reason, Thomas struggled in school, so his teachers thought he wasn’t smart enough, so his mother decided to teach him herself. She taught how to read and write. 

Sometimes people who struggle in school don’t have problems, they just don’t do well in a normal school setting. This was the case with Edison and the genius Albert Einstein ran into the same problem.  

After a while, Thomas developed a love for books. He read a lot of books and taught himself on his own. As a child, he was amazed at technology and new inventions and started spending long hours working on experiments at home. 

He loved to tinker and try new things. He would try different ways to solve a problem until he figured it out. This is called “tinkering” and one way that inventors solve problems. 

When Thomas was 12 he became  completely deaf in one ear and developed a hearing problem in the second “ear” too.  

But what was at first a handicap, ended up being helpful to Thomas. His  hearing problem allowed him to concentrate on his work. 

Because he is not able to hear things properly, outside noise is not able to distract him from his work, and as a result, he went on to become one of the greatest inventors in history with 1,093 inventions!

When Thomas was young  he decided to sell candy, newspapers and vegetables on the trains running between Port Huron and Detroit.  

One day a young boy was on the train tracks. Thomas spotted him and pulled him off the tracks, saving the boy’s life. The train officials took notice and offered Thomas the job of a telegraph operator. 

The telegraph is a device that was used to send messages at distance using a wire before the telephone was invented.

Thomas was earning good money by the time he was 13, but most of the money went to buying equipment for his electric and chemical experiments. He had always been  very hardworking. 

He had also been  selling newspapers on the street and at 19, decided to work for the newspaper Newswire. He asked to work at night  so he could spend the day time hours on his  experiments and reading.   

Thomas was so into his work he even  did his experiments while working on the job. In one accident caused by sulphuric acid, he lost his job. Edison started his own company in October 1869. 

Next, let’s talk about some of his world-changing inventions..  

At the age of 22, Thomas invented an electric vote recorder, he also developed a multiplex telegraphic system, which could send two telegraph messages at the same time.  

Thomas’s most famous invention came in the year 1879 when he built his first light bulb. It took a very long time to figure out how to build the lightbulb and he had many technicians working on the project.

They tried hundreds of different materials until they found the best one for the lightbulb. This invention made him a very famous inventor across the world and even today many people know Edison for this invention alone. 

Edison was granted a right (known as a patent) for the motion picture camera known as “Kinetograph”. This was one of the first devices for watching movies. With this motion camera, Edison also had a  film studio made around 1,200 films.  

Some of the film’s names were:  Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894), The Kiss (1896), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), and the first Frankenstein film in 1910. 

Edison won several medals like Matteucci Medal (1887)-It’s an Italian medal given to a person who is an expert in the field of physics and the Edward Longstreth Medal in 1899 for the encouragement of invention. 

In 1890, he was chosen as a member of the famous Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In the United States, there are buildings and bridges named after Edison, particularly, the town of Edison and Thomas Edison State University, both in New Jersey. 

There is a bridge in the state of New Jersey, Florida and Ohio named after Edison, all three are known as “the Edison Bridge”. 

Thomas Edison invented many things, but his work was not easy. On December 10, 1914, in the evening, a massive fire broke out in his laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey. Edison was called and  quickly rushed to his lab. 

The fire was so fierce that it burned more than half of the laboratory. It was very hard to put out.

Edison stood and watched his years of research work burn to ashes. Everyone was worried that Edison would not be able to recover from this shock. 

But instead Edison  peacefully walked over to his son and told him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”  

His son couldn’t believe it. Edison went on to say, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”

“Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”  

True to his word, the very next day Thomas Edison got to work rebuilding the lab.

To do incredible things, we need to be resilient enough to bear disaster and setbacks. Resilience means to get back up when we’ve had setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do in life. 

We have to find happiness in every single thing that occurs. Because of  Edison’s positive thinking, he was able to start working again even with setbacks and create so many useful inventions. 

Edison’s life teaches us that everyone has challenges, but if we don’t lose hope and remain confident enough, we can move mountains. 

Remember Thomas Edison next time you have something difficult happen to you and you wonder if you can keep going.

History of the Transcontinental Railroad for Kids

Do you know what a train is? You may have seen one when your car was stopped and you had to wait to watch it pass. Or maybe you’ve even taken a ride on a train. Trains are extremely important because they move goods and people from one place to another and can do it very quickly. Railroads are one of the most important parts of American History, because the country is very big and they helped connect the East and the West.

Many years ago it took a very long time to travel from the East to the West. Most people had to take a boat all the way around the continent, a journey which took months to complete. Travellers could also take a wagon across the dangerous wilderness and tall mountains to get from one side of the country to another. Either way, it was a very difficult journey and kept the country separated in many ways. 

But in the 1800s gold was discovered in the West and many Americans moved there to try and strike it rich. But one major problem was how long it took to get to the gold. One man, Asa Whitney, believed a railroad could be built right through the the middle of the country. Many doubted this could be done, but Asa made a plan and went to the government with his idea, but at first no progress was made.

Later, an American named Theodore Judah decided to find a way to build a railroad across the country. He was a surveyor. A surveyor is someone who looks at the land with special tools and finds ways to build roads and buildings on it. Theodore had many good ideas about how the railroad could be built. He had to learn much about math and other sciences in order to design maps that could be used to make a path for the railroad. 

Eventually two big companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad caught the vision of the railroad and decided to make it happen. They would call it the Transcontinental Railroad. Soon afterward one company started in California and the other started in Nebraska with a plan to meet in the middle. 

Building the railroad across the United Stated was a dangerous task and extremely difficult at times. They had to build tall bridges across wide rivers. To go through mountains they had to dig deep holes, then place gun powder in them and blow them up to create even deeper holes that went all the way through the mountain. Many smart engineers worked on creating a path for the 2000 miles of track that were being laid. Railroad tracks were laid by pounding spikes into railroad ties. All of this work was done by hand, by pounding each spike in with a hammer. This was very difficult work and many workers didn’t survive the hard labor. Americans of all different races and colors helped build the railroad. One group that did much of the work were Chinese immigrants. An immigrant is someone who comes from another country. Chinese immigrants worked long and hard for very little pay to help complete the monumental task. 

In 1869 after eight years of work the two companies met in the middle at Promontory Point, Utah. They threw a big party to celebrate the completion of the railroad. A gold spike had been prepared as the last spike in the railroad. President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Governor Stanford gave a speech then lifted a hammer to pound the last spike into the ground. But he swung and missed! The crowd burst out laughing. “He missed it!” They said. He swung again and hit the gold spike in. Everyone cheered! 

News of the finished railroad was sent by telegram to both parts of the country. When it reached New York and California they fired off cannons to show their excitement. It was truly an exciting time for the United States of America! A trip across the country that had taken many months now only took 10 days! The new Transcontinental Railroad was truly an engineer miracle of hard work and smart minds all working together to accomplish a common task.

The History of Glass for Kids

If you look around your house, and it’s like mine, you’ll probably notice a very common item. Jars are made out of it, some cups and bowls are made out of it, maybe a few decorations on your shelves. This is what windows are made out of and the screens on tablets and phones. Can you guess what it is? …. If you said glass you are correct! Many household items are made from glass. Sometimes materials like glass are just taken for granted. That means we have them but we don’t really understand how they are made or the history behind them, so we don’t really think much about them. But tonight we’re going to talk about the history of glass. Where it comes from, how it’s made and the many steps through history until it became the glass we know today!

To my surprise, I found out glass has been around for a very long time. It’s funny because I thought it was a more recent invention, but the earliest known man made glass is from 3500 B.C., which is about 5500 years ago! Crazy, right? But even before that a form of glass, called obsidian, was used hundreds of thousands of years ago in the Stone Age. You’ve probably heard of the Stone Age, where early humans lived a very simple  life, just barely getting by. It was a hard life. Metals weren’t even invented yet and so basic stones were used as tools. Obsidian was one of those tools. It’s a black, glossy rock that is formed from the lava of volcanoes. Stone age humans used it to cut meat to eat and animal skins for clothes and shelter. It was very sharp, so it was a very popular rock to own! But obsidian was different from later glass, because humans didn’t create it, they just found it lying around volcanoes.

So later, around 3500 B.C. in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia humans learned to make the first glass. Most of the early glass was not clear like the glass you know today and usually they just used it for jewelry, the beads in necklaces, for example. But later they found ways to shape it into bowls and it continued to be very valuable, because very few people knew how to make glass objects. 

Over the years glassmakers became very skilled at their craft and by the time of the Roman Empire, they found ways to make it more clear and transparent. Archeologists have found many glass objects around the world that date back to Roman times, proving they were getting very good at glassmaking. The Romans also became skilled at carving (or etching) in the glass and it was traded all across the Roman empire.

By Medieval Times glassmakers became so good that they were able to create windows of glass and used them to decorate the windows of many churches and cathedrals. A cathedral is a very big church. Often these glass windows were red and blue and green and yellow, many different colors, which is called stained glass. When the light hits these colored windows, it produces a very beautiful effect. 

Next, during Renaissance Times one of the best known places for glass making was Murano, Venice in what is now known as Italy. Venice is a city literally built on the water on stilts. Can you believe that!? Venice even has a huge cathedral, or church, built on top of the water. People use boats to travel around the city and bridges over the water to connect the neighborhoods. It’s an amazing place to visit if you ever get the chance. 

So the glassmakers of Venice were very good at their work, but glassmaking required hot furnaces so it often started fires. So the city leaders had the idea to move all of the glassmaking to the island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, this way if there was a fire it wouldn’t burn down the rest of the city. Good idea, right? The first glassmakers of Murano became famous for their beautiful glass beads and mirrors. Unlike earlier glass their glass was very clear, similar to the glass you see today. And because they were so good at their job, the Murano glassmakers were paid very well and given lots of privileges in Venice. But one thing they weren’t allowed to do was leave! There were very strict rules about the glassmakers not leaving and starting their own businesses or sharing their ideas with people outside of the city. But even with the rules, some of the glassmakers were able to escape and soon the technique of making glass spread across Europe. If you visit Venice today glassmakers still live and work there and there you can see them at work, creating and shaping their glass in beautiful ways.

If you’ve never seen how glassblowing works, it’s worth finding a video and watching it, but basically one person takes a very long tube called a blowpipe. Then molten glass is heated up on the far end in a very hot furnace. They spin the blowpipe in the furnace, shape it on a metal table, and then begin to blow into the end of the pipe. This expands the hot glass on the end, making it larger. Then it’s put in the furnace again and shaped and blown through the pipe, over and over until it’s the shape and size the maker wants it to be. Finally it’s placed in a kiln until it cools and is ready to be used. Like I said, check out a video about glassblowing sometime, it’s really fascinating.

And what is glass made of? There are different materials used to make glass, which include sand, soda ash, and limestone, but it’s melted at such high temperatures it becomes a liquid that can then be shaped or made flat depending on what the creator plans to make.

So back to the history of glassmaking, in 1674 an English glassmaker named George Ravenscroft invented lead glass, which is also known as crystal, and was a major breakthrough in glassmaking. 

And then by the 1900s engineers designed machines to make glass. Do you know what happens when you find ways to build something faster? It takes less time, so it becomes less expensive. During the Industrial Revolution, an inventor named Michael Owen’s created an automatic bottle blowing machine, which could make 2,500 bottles in one hour! Soon even ordinary people were able to own glass and used them for cups, bowls, bottles, windows and in many other ways.

In the 1950s Alastair Pilkington discovered a way to make huge glass sheets by floating molten glass on a metal like tin or lead. This allowed them to create large sheets for windows and is now used widely and known as the Pilkington Process after its creator. 

Today glass is created in many different ways, using different chemicals to make it stronger so it breaks less. If you’ve noticed the glass in many phones has become stronger due to these better techniques. This is part of the engineering process. Taking something that works and using new techniques or materials to make it better. That might mean making it faster or making it work better or stronger. That idea applies to your own life. You can take something you like and work at it until you become better and better at it.

So, what do you think about glass? Is it more interesting now? I’ll bet when you see glass next you won’t think about it the same. If you’re like me, you’ll look at it and think “wow, I didn’t know it took SO long to get to the kind of clear glass we use today, and how many inventors and glassmakers it took until they were able to figure it out.” 

Next time you see something common, like the lights in your house or the refrigerator or the TV, do some investigating yourself. Find a video or an article and read all about the history of that object. It’s fascinating to find out how we got to the inventions we all know and appreciate now. 

The History of the Great Wall of China for Kids

Imagine you are walking along a path in the forest.  Around you are beautiful mountains covered with lush green trees.  You see tall bamboo trees and birds in the sky. Nearby is a small mountain village where families are cooking dinner and playing in common areas.  As you walk further along the path towards the mountain range, you suddenly look up and see a gigantic stone wall cutting through the forest. You place your hands on it and look up. It is incredibly high. When you look left and right you see that it stretches in both directions as far as your eye can see.  You are at one of the most famous structures in the world: the Great Wall of China! 

The Great Wall of China was built over 2,000 years ago and runs more than 13,000 miles across northern China.  But why was this wall built?  And how has it lasted so long?

The Great Wall of China was constructed by Emperor Chin Shi Huang in the 3rd century B.C.  Well actually, parts of the wall were built earlier than that and it is doubtful that Emperor Chin did any of the actual construction work himself.  

Emperor Chin united a number of different independent states in China and was the first emperor to unite all of these different communities together as one Chinese country.  This happened around 220 B.C.  Before that, there were many different kingdoms throughout China and different groups of people lived on their own.  The land that the Chinese people lived on was very fertile. Fertile means the land is good for growing lots of food. Over time, the people that lived in the area started to farm and grow crops.  As more people farmed the land, they needed to create systems of order and government to help manage the land and how it was used.  

At this time, Chinese people developed and irrigated fields and grew crops near the Yellow River valley. Farming large areas of land required people to work together and form a government to work the land peacefully.  That is why the Chinese formed one empire and also built walls around them to protect their communities against attacks by the nomads.  Nomads means someone who doesn’t live in one place but moves from place to place. The nomads didn’t farm, but instead moved around and herded animals. They used the food from these animals to survive. They also hunted instead of staying in one place and farming. 

Since the nomads needed to move with the animals, they had a completely different type of society and order. They needed to hunt animals or trade for them.  This led to the nomads trading with the Chinese or in many cases attacking them. 

The nomadic tribes often came into contact with the Chinese farmers.  Sometimes it was friendly and they would trade with each other.  But often, they did not get along.  The nomadic people wanted to use the farmland to hunt and move around, but the farm people wanted more land to farm. This led to battles between the farmers and the nomads.  The farming kingdoms also often fought each other for control of different territories. This is why this period of history in China is known as the “Warring States Period.”

To help avoid attacks, many of the kingdoms built walls to defend themselves.  The walls were made out of rocks and compacted dirt that was tamped very tightly to form the structure.  These walls were shorter versions of the Great Wall of China that was later built.  They stretched between the border of different regions and often included towers, block houses for soldiers and beacons to send smoke signals.

When Emperor Chin became emperor, he wanted to put a stop to the fighting between different farming kingdoms.  He declared that all of these kingdoms were now part of one country called China.  But the nomadic people that lived outside the area didn’t care about this.  They continued to attack the farming areas. 

To help stop these attacks and to continue to unite the new country, the Emperor ordered that the walls between different states be removed and that the shorter walls that existed along the northern border of China be joined together to form one long wall.  Emperor Qin thought that this would also help protect them against attacks from the north where China’s biggest enemy lived — Mongolia. The Mongolians were fierce fighters and very dangerous to the Chinese.

The project of building the Great Wall was a huge task requiring a lot of work.  Emperor Qin ordered his army to work on the wall, so much of it was constructed by soldiers.  But they needed even more workers to get the job done.  So Emperor Qin ordered that prisoners work on the wall as well.  This is called “forced labour,” which is when someone is forced to do a job without getting paid. It was hard work and estimated that around 400,000 workers died while building the wall.  

Conditions were probably very difficult due to the long stretches of mountains and desert where the Wall was built.  Today, there are some areas of the Great Wall where no one lives because the conditions are so difficult and there are some parts where the winters are so cold that no one goes there in the winter.  Can you imagine having to work on building a large wall in those conditions?

Because much of the wall is built with rammed earth, most of the materials that they used to build the wall could be found right where they were building.  However, some additional supplies and workers had to travel a far way to get to the wall. This made construction even more difficult. Sometimes the young men that were forced to build the wall had to haul boats loaded with baggage upstream in rivers in order to bring food to the workers.  The work was so hard that many people tried to escape and sneak away back to the city or to their hometowns.  Many individuals died in the wilderness trying to escape because the conditions were hard to survive and the journey home was so long. 

Eventually, people living in the newly united China started to revolt against the Qin dynasty.  To revolt means to fight against and overthrow.  Emperor Qin was a strict ruler and not everyone agreed with his rules. As Emperor Qin lost the support of the Chinese people over time, there were less and less soldiers that were willing to go out to work on the wall.  They stopped listening to his orders and as a result, the construction of the wall slowed down. 

Later Chinese rulers carried on the construction and eventually the wall was finished.  This included the Han, Sui, Northern, Jin and Ming Dynasties.  Each repaired, rebuilt or expanded the wall.  During the Ming Dynasty, major rebuilding work took place and sections of the wall that were originally built with dirt were replaced with bricks and stone instead.  These new materials helped the wall to last longer in good shape. 

One of the first mentions of a wall built against northern invaders is found in a poem, dated seventh century BC.  It is recorded in the ancient Chinese book of Classic Poetry. 

In 221 BC, when Qin Shi Huang united the Chinese states, the walls were known as “Changcheng” which literally means “long walls”.  The walls were mostly constructed of tamped earth, which some parts built with stones. Where natural barriers, like ravines and rivers worked enough for defence, the walls were erected sparingly.  Often in addition to the wall, defensive systems like garrisons and beacon towers were built inside the wall and watchtowers on the outside at regular intervals. 

Unfortunately the Great Wall never totally prevented invaders from coming into China.  It was a useful way to stop raids.  But at several points throughout its history the Great Wall failed to stop enemies.  This included in 1644 when the Manchu Qing marched through the gates of Shanhai Pass and replaced the Ming dynasty as the new rulers of China.  But the Great Wall came to be seen as a symbol of the ongoing power and strength of the Chinese civilization. 

Eventually the Chinese were forced to move back from the northern part of China when the Mongolian people attacked in the north and conquered and took control of China.  The Mongols were led by Genghis Khan, a famous, violent leader. The Mongols didn’t need the Great Wall as much as the Chinese had in the past, but they assigned soldiers to man the wall in order to protect merchants and travelers travelling along the Silk Road trade routes. 

Eventually the Ming Dynasty took control of the area again.  During the Ming Dynasty, the Ming rules were very strong leaders and Chinese culture grew stronger. They built a lot of additional parts of the Great Wall including bridgets, temples and pagodas.  Pagodas are like western gazebos, or covered areas that people can sit under.

Between the 18th and 20th centuries, the Great Wall became the most common symbol of China for the Western world. Today, the Great Wall is generally recognized as one of the most impressive building feats in human history. In 1987, UNESCO, an international heritage organization, designated the Great Wall a World Heritage site.  At the time, it was the only man-made structure that could be visible from space!

In modern times, thousands of tourists visit the Great Wall of China.  The most popular part of the wall and the most famous is called Badaling.  It runs 43 miles northwest of Beijing.  Would you like to see the Great Wall of China one day?  If you do, think of all of the people that worked to build and maintain the wall throughout time.  Walking along the Great Wall of China, you will surely be walking along part of history!

Quiz

  1. When was the Great Wall of China built? Over 2,000 years ago. 
  2. How long does the wall run? More than 13,000 miles across northern China
  3. Why was this wall built?  To unify the new Chinese state and keep out northern invaders.
  4. Which emperor ordered the unified construction of the northern wall? Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century B.C.  
  5. What is the difference between farmers and nomadic people?  Farmers stay largely in one place and grow their food; Nomadic people hunt animals and move with them as they move.
  6. Who was the biggest threat to the new Chinese kingdom when it was unified?  The Mongolian people to the north.
  7. What was the Great Wall originally made of? Rammed earth and stones.
  8. Who was the leader of the Mongolian people when they attacked and conquered China?  Genghis Khan
  9. Can the Great Wall be seen from space? Yes!
  10. What is the most famous stretch of the Great Wall that runs northwest of Beijing called? Badaling

Activities

  1. Print a map of Asia and color the area of China in red. Color the area of Mongolia north of China purple.   
  2. On your map, draw a line where you think the Great Wall of China runs.  Now look up a picture on the internet.  See how close you were with your guess. 
  3. Draw a picture of the Great Wall close up.  Include a watch tower or a pagoda.  What else could you add to help fortify, or strengthen, your defence of the wall?
  4. Tea – Legend has it that around 2737 B.C., a Chinese ruler was sitting in his garden.  He had a pot of drinking water at his elbow.  A leaf fell from a nearby tree and drifted into the pot of water.  This inspired the creation of tea!  Tea is a very popular drink in China. Together with an adult, make a pot of tea for your family.  You will need boiling water, tea leaves, a teapot and strainer.  Try some different flavors of tea.  What is your favorite?  Why do you think tea helped keep Chinese people and other tea drinkers healthy throughout history? [answer: boiling water is good for hygiene, killing bacteria]
  5. Food – In ancient China, people ate rice, soybeans, cucumbers, pork and chicken.  Look up a recipe for a stir-fry using some of these ingredients.  Together with a parent, try cooking a traditional Chinese meal for your family.

History of Mars Exploration for Kids

Meet Mars Perseverance Rover

Watch NASA engineers prepare Perseverance for launch

Learn more about the SpaceX Starship for it’s 2022 Mars Mission

On certain nights, if you go outside and look up into the sky you may see a very bright light. It may look like a star, but if you’re looking at the right place and at the right time, you can see the planet Mars. Mars is special because it’s one of the closest planets to Earth. It’s also more similar to Earth than any of the other planets in our Solar System. It has a surface you can walk on. And with the right tools, people could someday live on Mars. Humans have always been interested in Mars and have explored in more than any other planet. 

Because of its color Mars is often called the “Red Planet.” It’s the fourth planet from the Sun and Earth is the third. Because it’s further from the Sun than Earth, it’s very cold on Mars. Like most planets, Mars is very big, but it’s about six times smaller than Earth. It has two small moons named Phobos and Deimos. The surface of Mars is rocky and covered in red-brown colored dust. It’s extremely cold and dry. There is no flowing water on the surface of Mars and no plants or animals live there. However, there is evidence that millions of years ago water flowed on Mars, but over time it froze or evaporated.

Even though there is no life on Mars, it has some amazing geographical features, which include a mountain and volcano called Olympus Mons, which is more than twice the height of Mount Everest and the second-largest known mountain in the Solar System. The Red Planet also has a gigantic canyon called Vallis Marineris, which is 10 times longer than the Grand Canyon and 6 times deeper. If it was on earth Vallis Marineris would stretch all the way across the United States.    

For thousands of years, humans have been interested in Mars. Ancient astronomers such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese watched Mars in the sky with wonder. The Romans named it “Mars” after the god of war, because it was red, the color of blood. In 1877 when Mars was closest to Earth, the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a telescope to draw a detailed map of Mars. As telescopes improved humans learned more and more about the Red Planet. They wondered if it had planets and animals like earth and they dreamed of visiting it someday. Science fiction authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined it having people and wrote adventures about what happened there in his book A Princess of Mars.     

The first attempts to explore Mars were made by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet Union was the name of Russia and other nearby countries at that time. They launched 9 different unmanned rockets in hopes of reaching Mars. Unmanned means no humans are on the rocket. Most of the first spacecraft never made it to the Red Planet, but the Mars 3 lander did land on the surface of Mars, and the Mars 5 lander landed and was able to send back some information before it stopped working. 

In 1964 NASA, the United State’s National Air and Space Administration launched Mariner 4 and Mariner 5 to learn more about Mars. The first spacecraft failed, but the second one made the 7 month trip to the Red Planet. When it arrived it took pictures from space and sent them back to Earth. It was the first time humans saw the surface of another planet! It was amazing! They saw craters and learned that living on Mars would be harder than they expected. More spacecraft were sent and took new pictures of Mars. With each visit, they learned more about our neighboring planet.

The next goal was to land a vehicle on Mars so it could take close up pictures and samples of the Martian air and dirt. Remember, that all of these spacecraft and landers were unmanned, they were robots and didn’t have people on them. They were all controlled by people on Earth. Sending a human to Mars would be much more challenging and dangerous. 

In 1975 NASA sent two more landers to Mars and called them Viking 1 and Viking 2. They landed successfully and sent back color pictures of the surface of Mars. They showed red, rocky land. The Viking landers also learned more about what life would be like on Mars.

Next came the Mars Pathfinder mission, which landed again and this time included a rover. A rover is a robot with wheels and arms that drives around the surface of the Red Planet. It can take pictures and samples of the dirt and air. Then it uses radio communication to send all of this information across space and back to Earth.

Other missions sent more probes to fly over Mars and take pictures. Then in 2012 the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and took even better pictures and samples to prepare for future missions. 

While researching this episode, I learned that this month, July 2020, NASA plans to launch its new and improved rover called Perseverance . If it launches this month it would land on Mars in February and send back whatever it learns. One of the coolest things about the Perseverance rover is it will also have a small helicopter on it that will detach and fly around and explore and take pictures from the sky. 

Also, just this last week China launched its first spacecraft and lander to explore Mars. Mars exploration is really exciting lately! I’m look forward to hear what they find out next. 

The next big step with Mars will be sending humans to live and do research there. Elon Musk is a tech billionaire and visionary who has made sending humans to live on Mars the mission of his company, SpaceX. His goal is to send humans there by 2022. This is called colonization. It’s a big goal, but he and his engineers have accomplished amazing things in the past. He also started Tesla, which makes the famous electric cars.

In 2020 if SpaceX is ready, their mission to Mars would begin by launching their Starship spacecraft attached to their Super Heavy rocket. It would probably take 6 months to get from Earth to Mars, but the engineers at SpaceX are working to make it faster. Two more Starships would launch the same year. If SpaceX reaches the Red Planet they’ll have to be prepared to live there. First, humans will need oxygen, because Mars’s air does not have oxygen like Earth’s. They will bring some of their own oxygen and also use special machines to pull other elements like Carbon Dioxide out of the air and convert it into oxygen. They’ll also need water. One way to do this is to dig up the soil and extract water from deep in the ground or from frozen ice caps. They will also need to wear special suits because its air doesn’t protect them from the Sun’s radiation — and radiation is very dangerous to the body. The Red Planet is also extremely cold. Their homes and suits will need to keep them warm. These habitats will also have the oxygen and air pressure the body needs to survive. And  of course humans need to eat, so they will bring some of their own food at first, but if they want to live there for a long time they’ll need to figure out how to grow plants in Martian soil, so they can eat them. 

Many teams are already preparing for life on Mars by living in habitats in the desert on Earth. Living alone will be a challenge and all of the astronauts will have to work as a team and find ways to get along with each other. The goal to send people to Mars is a big one, but humans have done amazing things in the past as they think big and work together.

Would you like to visit a faraway place like the space station or the Moon or Mars someday? What kind of skills would you need to survive in a place like that? If so, what can you do now to prepare to explore like an astronaut or create new devices like the engineers at NASA and SpaceX? 

Building things requires a knowledge of math and science. It also requires creativity. There are a few ways you can develop these skills on your own and at school. Remember that even though subjects like math don’t always seem interesting at first, understanding them can give you the ability to do amazing things.

Also, teamwork is important to achieve big goals. All of the space missions require huge teams of engineers and scientists, mission control operators, and astronauts to get the job done. No one achieves these feats alone. Learning to be patient and get along with your friends and family members prepares to work well with others and on a team. This will be important for the rest of your life.     

And be sure to mark your calendar for July 30th as NASA prepares to send its next rover, The Perseverance, to Mars. 

Thanks for listening! Be sure to check out our website BedtimeHistoryStories.com to see our favorite books and movies about Mars exploration and a really cool video of NASA preparing its next Mars mission and SpaceX’s 2020 Mars mission. That’s BedtimeHistoryStories.com 

The Rosetta Comet Mission For Kids

Have you ever heard of a comet? A comet is a gigantic piece of ice and rock and dirt that flies through outer space at incredible speeds. Many comets are the size of mountains and when they speed around space have a tail of gasses that can be hundreds of thousands feet long.

For a long time humans have seen comets in the sky and wondered what they are. some very smart scientists decided they wanted to learn more about comets so they decided to create a spaceship that would find a comet and land on it. This had never been done before but they knew if they build the spaceship right and worked out all of the math correctly they could make it happen.

Many different countries in Europe, designed and started working on the spacecraft they would call Rosetta. It took many different engineers and scientists studying space and spaceships to know how Rosetta should work.

Astronomers, scientists who know a lot about space also had to follow the comet Rosetta would land on. They had to use math to figure out how fast Rosetta should go and where it should go to land on the large rocky comet flying around space.

When Rosetta was ready they blasted the ship into outer space and someone gave it directions to fly. No one was actually on Rosetta because it would be gone for a very long time and might be a very dangerous mission. They flew it sort of like you might fly a remote controlled helicopter or car.

For 10 years Rosetta flew through outer space. It had many adventures there such as passing planets like Mars and asteroids, other rocks in space, many places a spacecraft had never been. After 10 years it finally was close enough to the icy comet speeding through space. All of the engineers and scientists at mission control were very nervous. They had worked very hard for this day and had been very patient waiting 10 years until they could land their ship. When the day finally came they watched in anticipation as Rosetta came into the orbit of the gigantic comet. This comet was as big as a mountain.

Attached to Rosetta was a robot that would land on the comet and do experiments to learn more about the comet. When the time was right the lander shot out of Rosetta and raced toward the massive comet below. For a moment it seemed as thought it wouldn’t work, the lander was off track, then suddenly it shot spears out of its side and stuck into the comets ground. It used these hooks and ropes to pull itself down to the ground. When it hit the ground it tumbled and was broken in some places but eventually came to rest. Everyone at mission control cheered. The robot had landed, Rosetta had completed its mission. This was the first time a robot had ever landed on a comet flying through space! The mission was a success!

Once the lander, which they had called Phillae had time to recharge its batteries it was able to do a few experiments and send the data back to earth. They learned about the water on comets and some of its metals.

Like the scientists and engineers who designed and built Rosetta you can learn all you can about science and other subjects. They had to listen closely and study and do their homework to become skilled at what they do.

Astronomers also helped by learning about the stars. You can go out at night and look at the stars and watch shows and read about all of the amazing things happening in the sky above you.

Waiting for Rosetta to finally reach the comment also took patience. They had to wait many years until it arrived. Over 2000 people worked on this project. This shows that teamwork is important to make great things happen. What would you like to do when you grow up? Think about it tonight, use your imagination and make a list of the things you can do now to improve yourself, then, pick one of them and start right away.