NASA, Voyager, and long-term project-based learning

voyager 1 probe

The premise for the first Star Trek film featuring the original series cast proposes that a probe from Earth, Voyager 6, traveled so far and accumulated so much information as it traveled the cosmos that it achieved sentience. And when it did, it wanted to return to “The Creator” and deliver all that information.

Trust me, that first Star Trek movie is the most “sci-fi” of the entire series, except maybe Star Trek: Beyond.

While no probe named Voyager 6 ever launched, the idea of a probe transmitting data back home after traveling billions of miles is still very much a reality and not science fiction.

However, you may have heard that Voyager 1, launched nearly 50 years ago, began transmitting gibberish back to NASA a few months ago. Many feared the worst. Voyager kept transmitting data, signifying it was alive, but something happened to the data transmissions.

After five months of work, the Voyager team worked some coding magic to restore the code and restart regular transmissions.

“When the time came to get the signal, we could clearly see all of a sudden, boom, we had data, and there were tears and smiles and high fives… Everyone was very happy and very excited to see that, hey, we’re back in communication again with Voyager 1. We’re going to see the status of the spacecraft, the health of the spacecraft, for the first time in five months.”

Linda Spilker, project scientist for NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft at JPL

Talk about project-based learning at work…

Perhaps there’s no better example of the importance of project-based learning in schools than a story like this. When has anyone tried to change the code on an object over 15 billion miles from the Earth?

Never. There’s no guidebook for a project like this, no curriculum to refer to, no content standards. Just a group of experts trying everything they know to solve a problem.

And this project has been going for nearly 50 years. Share that with your students when they think they’ve been working on a project for too long.

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Sing A Note

Do you remember the old Sesame Street song that encouraged all of us to sing a song?

C’mon, if you’re the same vintage as me, you know what I’m talking about. This one?

Ah, a stroll down memory lane. On that note…

What if you didn’t sing a song but just had to sing one note? I imagine it would go something like this…

Louie Zong asked his viewers to send in a single singing note and received over 200 responses! He then organized and assembled these notes, keeping them as true to their original form as possible, and added some beats, creating an entirely new song from their community’s voices.

What might this look like at your school?