Teach PA History
Our Eye in the Sky: The TIROS Weather Satellite
Equipment & Supplies
  • Computer with internet access Digital Projector (optional to show images)


Day One

1. Write on the board, "For what purposes are satellites used?"

2. As a class brainstorm responses to this question. Some possible responses include:

Communication (Television, Internet, Phones)
Observation (Espionage, Weather Forecast, Environmental Monitoring)

Gathering Knowledge [military reconnaissance, oceanographic statistics, agricultural data (tracking planting, fertilizing, and drainage systems), astrological studies, meteorology trends, etc.]

Navigation (GPS systems, launching of emergency services during accidents)

3. Show the following images:
Earth Lights and ask students:

What do you think this is a satellite picture of? [This is a nighttime image of the earth.]

What sort of information does it relay to the viewer? [It shows the distribution of lights.]

How can we use this information to our benefit? [This could show us which areas are more urbanized and could be helpful in urbanization studies. Note how often the edges of the continent are more well-lit than the interior. What does this mean?]

True-color Terra and Aqua MODIS images from November 24, 2002

What do you think this is a satellite picture of? [This is a picture of oil spill fires in the Middle East.]

What sort of information does it relay to the viewer? [It shows how many fires there are, where they are located, how much smoke is being generated, and it also indicates wind patterns (where the smoke is being blown by the wind), and sedimentation activity in the Persian Gulf.]
To help with image analysis, here is the caption information to this satellite image:

The smoke first appears as a large black smudge in Kuwait at the center of the Terra image, which was taken during its morning overpass at 7:10 UTC. Later in the morning, at 10:15 UTC, the smoke cloud had grown much larger and started thinning out as it rose higher in the air. The MODIS instruments also detected active fires, which are marked in red, in Iran (top), Iraq (upper left), and Saudi Arabia (bottom). All four countries in the image border The Persian Gulf (bottom right), which shows turquoise-blue swirls of sediment in the water.

How can we use this information to our benefit? [We can use this to monitor this environmental impact of the oil fires.]

Geosynchronous Operational Environmental Satellite-8 image from September 2, 1994

What do you think this is a satellite picture of? [This is a beautiful color image of the earth and its atmosphere.]

What sort of information does it relay to the viewer? [It shows weather patterns/cloud distribution.]

How can we use this information to our benefit? [We can use this information to predict dangerous storms and save human lives.]

4. Students should have an idea of a variety of uses satellites have today. Now the class will look at the purposes of the world's first experimental and operational weather satellite made in Pennsylvania by Lavelle Aircraft Corporation. Disseminate and ask students to read Student Handout 1-Our Eye in the Sky This handout talks about the dual purpose of the first weather satellite, TIROS, created during the heated political climate of the Cold War.

5. Discuss any questions students may have about Our Eye in the Sky. Then disseminate marker Student Worksheet 1-The Historical Context of TIROS. This worksheet provides events from the space race and the Cold War. Students are asked to identify the events and place the launching of TIROS within the context of these events.

6. After students have had the opportunity to complete Student Worksheet 1-The Historical Context of TIROS, show The very first television picture from space, taken by the TIROS-I Satellite on April 1, 1960

Ask the students:
What is this an image of? [This is one of the first images you may have seen of the earth produced from space.]

Where did this picture come from? [It is taken from a weather satellite named TIROS launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.]

How does it make you feel? [Possibilities: Proud that it is an American image. Maybe it makes you feel small and insignificant seeing the Earth from space. Perhaps it gives you a feeling of connectedness, seeing yourself a part of a global community. Perhaps you are excited with the technological potential this image presents. Perhaps it bores you because you are used to seeing more technologically advanced images today.]

Would your feeling change if you were a Russian in 1960 and received the image from the United States? What would you be feeling then? [Fear of US technological abilities which could translate to weapons and spying technology] [Annoyed at their display of bravado.]

How could this photo help meteorologists predict the weather? [It shows cloud cover over the Earth.]

What other instruments can you name that would help meteorologists gather data?

[Thermometer (temperature); barometer (air pressure); sling psychrometer (relative humidity); rain gauge; wind vane; anemomenter (wind speed); weather maps; weather balloons,etc.]

How do you think weather prediction has changed over the past century?
[In general, there is a trend of more complex technology that is able to bring more accurate and timely weather prediction.]

7. For homework, students will read markerThe First Weather Satellite and answer the questions on marker Student Worksheet 2-The First Weather Satellite

Day Two

1. Discuss the answers to last night's homework together as a class or collect and grade the worksheet as an assessment of their understanding.

2. Say to the class: "Now let's take this investigation one step farther and look to see how satellites have changed from Lavelle's TIROS I to the weather satellites of present day. Let's do the first one together." Using two images familiar to the students, compare satellite images over time:

First, take a close look at the very first TIROS I image. Then examine a more recent image from GEOS-8. [Students will notice the resolution and digital quality differences of the two photos. They should also notice the evolution from black and white to color image.] Now ask students to pair up at the computer and research to see how satellites have improved over the years.

Here are some helpful sites:
A Satellite for all Seasons-TIROS [Last updated 2000; last accessed April 29, 2008.]
NASA [Last updated April 29, 2008; last accessed April 29, 2008.]

NASA Weather Satellite Imagery and Educational Information Links [Last updated September 22, 2000; last accessed April 29, 2008.]

NCDC: Climate of 2000-April 22, 2000-Earth Day [Last updated July 11, 2005; last accessed April 29, 2008.]

NOAA Satellite and Information Service-Information and History [Last accessed April 29, 2008.]

Ask each pair of students to fill out marker Student Worksheet 3-Venn Diagram provided to help to organize their research. Provide approximately 20 minutes to complete the diagram. When the time is up, share the results of the Venn diagram. See marker Teacher Guide to Student Worksheet 3-Venn Diagram.

3. Introduce the R.A.F.T. writing strategy. Explain to students they will be using their knowledge about TIROS from yesterday's and today's class in a writing assignment using a technique called a "R.A.F.T." This method can be used to help to focus their writing in a particular direction. You may describe the writing technique to your students in the following manner: The "R" stands for the role of the writer. You may choose to write from the perspective of an inventor, a politician, a scientist, or the satellite itself. The "A" stands for your audience. You could be writing to NASA, the American people, the United States government, other satellites, etc. The "F" stands for format. Your writing may be in the form of a resume, a letter, a speech to the American people, an autobiography, etc. The "T" stands for topic. The topic could be the scientific impact of TIROS I, how weather satellites have changed over the last century, the historical impetus behind the creation of TIROS, etc.

4. Say to the class, "The first thing I want you to do is to determine what you would like your R.A.F.T. to be. Write down your role, audience, format, and theme and then bring it up to me for approval. Once your R.A.F.T. is approved, you may begin creating the rough draft. You may use any of the information discussed in yesterday's class along with any documents or websites that we used. The final draft of your R.A.F.T. is due tomorrow. Please take a look at the copy of the grading rubric to see that you have met the requirements for a quality R.A.F.T."

Back to Top