What do you get when you cross Iridium 33 with Cosmos 2251? A great context for learning!

On February 10, 2009, the first hypervelocity (very high speed) collision occurred between two satellites. An operational satellite named Iridium 33, (owned by American Iridium Communications Inc.), and Cosmos 2251, which had been “dead” since 1995, (owned by the Russian Space Forces), collided at a relative speed of 42,000 km/hr. Both were completely shattered into 2000 individual pieces of debris, 1000 of which are greater than 10cm in size.

On February 13, 2009, sonic booms were heard in Kentucky, USA. This was confirmed as being debris from the two satellites falling to earth. (Ref: 2009 satellite collision) On March 24, 2012, the six crew members on board the orbiting International Space Station took the precaution of evacuating to some docked spacecraft until a piece of Kosmos 2251 satellite debris hurtled passed just missing the station.

There are many little known events like this that teachers can use to provide a real context for learning. Curiosity and creativity can be stimulated with questions that prompt students to think beyond the event itself. For example, what does this collision mean for our increasingly satellite dependent society? What can be done about this debris? How do our actions today impact (pun intended!) upon the future of others? Teachers can routinely package learning goals within such contexts, giving these goals meaning, purpose for students. Our classrooms should be fascinating places full of interest and stimulating conversation. There is no reason at all why they shouldn’t be exactly that!

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