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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #21
August 15, 2007

Rocket Science

Apollo 13 + Air and Space Museum

Apollo 13 gets an A + as a top notch family drama that takes a nearly disastrous moment from NASA's storied history and weaves a tale of incredible American heroism. Tom Hanks' famous utterance "Houston, we have a problem" sets into motion a story where three astronauts orbit earth with no chance of survival, while NASA's ground crew turns away from their computers to jerry-rig a handmade device which, incredibly, saves the astronauts' lives. The kids were enthralled watching the country's best scientists figure out how to do a handyman's job, but learned the lesson that an emergency calls for thinking outside the box.

After screening Apollo 13 and reading headline news about a Teacher-in-Space on the latest Endeavour mission to the International Space station, rocket science was looking like a pretty cool pursuit. Now that our kids were able to make the equation that math and science have practical, if not thrilling, applications, we decided to visit to a rocket exhibit at a local Air and Space Museum. We live close by to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and took the kids on their general tour, learning about the current missions, and observing real scientists working at a Mission Control center tracking satellites as they circumnavigate the skies. We are keeping current on the Endeavour voyage online and in the papers, as problems with a nick on the rocket's underbelly have kept scientists on the ground busy determining whether an additional repair-oriented spacewalk will be necessary before the astronauts return to Earth. As Crista McAuliff's backup 21 years ago, Morgan has caroomed into history by bringing an incredible high profile to the subjects of math and science. Could there be a better way to get your kids excited about going back to school?

Film Title: Apollo 13
Directed By: Ron Howard
1995, Rated PG, 135 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why this Film is Worth It: Apollo 13 is one of our favorite family films. Although just fifteen years old, this film rates as a classic because it portrays an important chapter in American history with historical accuracy. The filmmakers' production of the era and the mission is flawless. It'sa great choice for a Friday night screening party with another family. Kids will get an injection of history, enjoy a first-rate cast, and stay glued to the screen to make sure Tom Hanks and his crew get home safely. Parents, even if they've seen this film a few times, will appreciate watching a sophisticated, and beloved film with their kids.
  • Red Flags: Kids over seven will get the most out of this story. The film contains mild profanity and a few references to one character's active sex life.
  • Star Power: Ron Howard began as a child actor on the Andy Griffith Show and is beloved for his work in Happy Days and American Grafitti. Today, he is one of Hollywood's most accomplished directors. This film, which won two Oscars (editing and sound) established Howard as a fine interpreter of American stories. He also directed Parenthood, Cocoon, A Beautiful Mind and The DaVinci Code.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:
  • Cinema Savvy: "Houston, we have a problem". Your kids have probably heard this line a million times, but did they know where it came from? Parents can point out that lines can become so popular that they 'enter the popular lexicon'. Can they name other famous lines from films?  Remind them of Dorthy's lines,  "There's no place like home" and "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore", from the Wizard of Oz.
  • History Savvy:  Televised launches from Cape Canaveral and splash downs in the Pacific were moments that families gathered to watch together in the 60s and 70s.  A well made film often captures history better than a documentary or news program, but is it really history? When kids ask if it is a true story, help them separate fact (names of astronauts, events on the spacecraft), from fiction (some of the dialogue).


Tour an air and space or science museum

Time Allotment: half day
Age Recommendation: 5 and up

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Popcorn Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: Any science museum takes up more time than we usually budget because most are highly interactive, and brilliantly designed to capture kids' imaginations. Leave yourself room to explore.
  • Before You Go: Science and space museums usually have extensive online resources both to support their ever-changing exhibitions, or for general research. You'll be glad you checked online before your visit, and might return for homework help this fall.
  • Endeavour's Mission: The Space Shuttle mission was to carry a payload of supplies for the International Space Station as well as add an element that will help the Station draw solar power from its wings. However, the real story this week has been that NASA discovered a nick in the belly of the rocket which may or may not threaten the Shuttle's re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. Scientists here on the ground will decide, by today, whether to send astronauts on another spacewalk to make the repairs. The story is being covered on CNN online, as well as every newspaper so keep posted!
  • Teacher's Mission: Click here to listen to Barbara Morgan's space-to-ground lecture (8/14) to kids at The Discovery Center in Idaho and to find other educational options for home and school.
  • A 360 degree Virtual Tour of the STS-188: Click here and follow the links to the Interactive Space Station Reference Guide and see how and where the astronauts on Endeavour live and work.
  • COOL FACT: Endeavour is named after a ship captained by Captain Cook and was named after a nationwide contest for school kids.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your city + air and space museum or rockets. Still need help? Try the museum directory at
    Boston: Make time to check out the MARS! Show in the Museum of Science's 3-D Cinema. Don your 3D glasses and board the rockets that carried both the Spirit and Opportunity "rovers" into outer space, sit with NASA's Mission Control and land the rovers into a crater and check out real footage of the surface of Mars.
  • Chicago: The Museum of Science and Industy is home to the Henry Crown Space Center. On display are famous spacecraft and artifacts, including the Apollo 8 Command Module.  Keep in mind that the exhibit has been under some construction this summer, but is still open to the public. Call ahead to check the status.
  • Houston:Head out to the Space Center Houston, located approximately 25 miles south of downtown in the NASA/Clear Lake area.  Don't miss the NASA tour, space center & "blast off" theaters, the astronaut gallery, the feel of space exhibit, and the spaceship gallery, as well as ever changing new exhibits, including this summer's "Animal Grossology."  Space Center Houston is open every day of the year (except for December 25th) 10-5 weekdays and 10-7 weekends.  Since 1992, this $75 million, 180,000 square foot, "edu-tainment" complex has entertained and informed over 11 million star-struck guests.  For those wanting a more personalized experience, call for the Level 9 Tour (14 yrs. and older) to get behind the scenes access to the new mission control and astronaut training centers.  For an out of this world experience, Space Center Houston is a MUST DO activity and a fabulous place to see!  
  • New York: On the grounds of The New York Hall of Science is Rocket Park. The outdoor exhibit houses an original Atlas booster with a replica Mercury capsule and an original Titan II booster with a replica two-man Gemini capsule. There is also an interactive replica that allows visitors hands on experience inside a capsule. On display inside the museum is an original Mercury capsule. Located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in Queens.
  • San Francisco: Visit the Hiller Aviation Institute, located at the San Carlos Airport, and expose your kids to the wonders of flight, the history of aviation (including the Bay Area’s history) and its future. The exhibits include vintage and futuristic aircraft, numerous models of airplanes, videos/photographs, and even a few cockpits to sit in! For the older kids (8-17), on the third Saturday of every month, the museum offers free airplane rides so kids can experience the thrill of flight.  This is an excursion that you must plan if your child is interested in aviation! A child's play area is provided with toys and crayons so even the youngest tots stay amused. Open 7 days a week. Weekdays tend to be less crowded.
  • Washington, DC: The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum exhibit Space Race chronicles the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon. On display are many artifacts including a Skylab Orbital Workshop.  Housed in hangar exhibition spaces, the museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, is home to many famous larger rockets and spacecraft, including the Shuttle Enterprise.  Your kids will love racing around the wide open hangar halls as they take it all in. The experience is well worth the drive!  Admission is free, but parking is $12.

Our tips for extending this Adventure at home:
  • Click here to be connected to a description of what you can see in the nightsky this August.
  • Log onto JPL's Planetaary Photojournal and see the latest views from robotic explorers on Mars and other planets.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

For more films about science click here to visit the Kids Off the Couch store at

To read more about math, science and space click here and visit the Kids Off the Couch store at