a girl looking into the distance with a rocket behind her, with the title "A Message from Space"
Photo Illustration by Randy Pollak; Andrey Shelepin/Roscosmos Space Agency via AP Images (rocket); Suthin_Saenontad/Shutterstock.com (palm tree); iStockPhoto/Getty Images (girl, mother); Adobe Stock (owl); NASA (all other images)

A Message from Space

There are many kinds of courage.

By Spencer Kayden (based on the short story by Christina Diaz Gonzalez)
From the May 2021 Issue

Learning Objective: to write an email from the point of view of the main character in a drama

Lexiles: 980L (captions)
Other Key Skills: text structure, key ideas and details, inference, character

Think about how Naya sees herself and how that changes by the end of the play.


Naya’s room, late at night

SD1: Naya’s bedroom is decorated with owls—lots of owls. Ceramic owls clutter the desk. Owl posters hang on the walls. An owl blanket covers the bed.

SD2: Naya sits at a small desk in front of her laptop. Moonlight streams through the open window.

SD3: Naya googles “space disasters.”

SD1: She scrolls through the results and clicks a link.

SD2: Her eyes scan the screen. Then she sucks in her breath sharply and slams the laptop shut.

Scene 1

A school science fair


SD3: A noisy gymnasium is packed with visitors wandering up and down rows of science projects.

SD1: Naya stands by an elaborate display titled “The Plight of the Burrowing Owl.” A small group walks up.

Naya (nervously): Hi. So, um, this is my project about burrowing owls. They are not much bigger than my shoe and—

Student: Can you speak up please? We can’t hear you.

Naya (louder ): They’ve lost much of their natural habitat here in Florida. Without safe places to lay eggs and raise their young, they could disappear forever.

Student: Why are they called burrowing owls?

Naya: Because they roost underground in burrows.

SD2: Naya picks up a length of sewer pipe and a large plastic storage box.

Naya: But we can help protect them. With just a few simple things from the hardware store, you can make an artificial burrow on your own land.

Student: I seriously had no idea there were tiny owls in the ground. That’s cool.

Naya: Here, take a flyer. I’m starting an after-school club. We’re going to build burrows all over town.

SD3: The group moves on. Two new visitors arrive.

Parent 1: You’re Naya Diaz, right?

Naya: Yes.

Parent 1: Is Sonia Estrada-Diaz your mom?

SD1: Naya nods.

Parent 1: I knew it! You look just like her.

Parent 2: How did she become an astronaut?

Naya: Uh, well . . . she was an Air Force pilot, and she has degrees in engineering and biomedical science.

Parent 1: My 4-year-old has the Sonia action figure. She takes it everywhere.

SD2: The parent grabs a flyer and writes on it.

Parent 1: Here’s my email. Do you think you could get your mom to write my daughter a note?

SD3: Naya reluctantly takes the paper.

Naya: I guess I can try.

Parent 2: I bet you want to be an astronaut like her.

SD1: Naya shrugs.

Parent 1: Are you going to Kazakhstan for the launch?

Naya: No, the trip is a little too much for my grandpa. We’re watching from home.

Parent 2: You must be excited, though. How thrilling to watch your mom blast into space!

SD2: Naya forces a smile.

Parent 1: Well, good luck with your . . . (glances at Naya’s display) . . . owls.

SD3: The two parents walk away.

Naya (glumly): Thanks.

Scene 2

A classroom, a few days later

SD1: Naya sits alone in a classroom. Posted on the board in bright-orange bubble letters is a sign that reads “WELCOME Burrowing Owl Club!”

SD2: Naya gets up and looks through the door into the empty hallway. She sits back down and sighs.

JJ (entering  a few minutes later): Where is everyone?

Naya: You’re it.

JJ: Oh.

Naya: Whatever. Nobody cares about little owls that live underground.

SD3: Naya pulls down the welcome sign.

JJ: Don’t give up, Naya. You’ve got success in your blood. Did you watch your mom’s interview yesterday?

Naya: Yeah, she was amazing.

JJ: I’m always telling people she’s my aunt. It must be great to have a famous mom.

Naya: It’s OK.

SD1: There’s an awkward silence. JJ changes the subject.

JJ: I remember how you liked owls even when you were just a little kid.

Naya: Yeah. I guess it’s kind of babyish that I still do.

JJ: That’s not true. I wish I was as passionate about something as you are.

SD2: JJ notices a stack of maps that Naya has made.

JJ: What are these red X’s?

Naya: Those are potential burrow sites—open spaces away from trees where the owls would be safe from hawks or other predators.

JJ: I’ll help you build some burrows.

Naya: I mean, what am I supposed to say to people? “I hate flying. It makes me throw up.”

JJ: Wait. What? We aren’t talking about owls anymore, are we?

SD3: Naya pauses before answering.

Naya: I just wish everyone would stop expecting me to be like her.


Burrowing Owls

Some burrowing owls move into burrows left behind by other animals, such as skunks or squirrels. But in Florida, burrowing owls usually make their own burrows, by digging with their beaks and kicking the soil back with their feet. They create winding tunnels up to 10 feet long, with a chamber at the far end for their eggs.

Scene 3

Naya’s house, a little while later

SD1: Naya walks through the front door and drops her backpack on the floor. She dumps her flyers in the trash.

Mom (walking in): How was the club?

Naya: It was—

SD2: Mom’s phone rings.

Mom: Hold on, I’ve got to take this.

SD3: Naya goes into the kitchen and plops down at the table.

Dad: Hi! I’ve made your mother’s favorite for her last night with us—enchiladas. I don’t think she’ll be eating many of those on the International Space Station.

Emilio: Is it true Mom’s going to drink her own pee?

Abuelo: No. It gets recycled and filtered, so it’s just water.

Emilio: So she is going to drink her own pee!

SD1: Abuelo ruffles Emilio’s hair.

SD2: Mom comes into the kitchen. She sees a row of cereal boxes with her face on them.

Mom: How many did you buy?

Dad: What can I say? I’m proud.

Mom: Well, maybe we can keep them in the pantry instead of on the counter.

Dad: So, Naya, how was your day?

SD3: Naya looks up at all the magazine covers featuring her mother that are stuck to the fridge.

Naya (quietly): It was fine.

Scene 4

Naya’s house, two weeks later

SD1: In a crowded living room, Naya’s family is talking and laughing. Her younger cousins noisily chase each other through the house.

SD2: Naya stands in a corner, biting her lip.

Dad (shouting ): David, we need more chips!

Tío David (offstage): Coming!

SD3: Tío David enters with a large tray.

Tía Martina: Has anyone seen Marco’s toy rocket ship?

Tío David: Did you check the backseat of the car?

JJ: Can someone turn the volume up?

Tía Martina: Sure.

SD1: Announcers’ voices are heard from the TV.

Announcer 1: You are looking at a live feed of the launchpad in Kazakhstan and the 160-foot rocket that will take three astronauts to the International Space Station.

Announcer 2: This is the first flight for NASA astronaut Sonia Estrada-Diaz.

JJ: Go Tía Sonia!

Announcer 1: For the next six months, Estrada-Diaz will be testing a new food-growing technology aboard the ISS. One day, it could be used on a Mars colony.

Announcer 2: We are at 10 minutes to liftoff.

SD2: Naya slips out of the room.


Living in Space

For the past 20 years, astronauts and scientists have been living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). Traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour, the ISS orbits Earth about every 90 minutes. That means the crew sees 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day. Living in microgravity has its complications. At bedtime, the astronauts must strap themselves down so they don’t float away. But there are advantages too. For example, you can move a 700-pound piece of equipment with your fingertips!

Scene 5

Naya’s room, a few minutes later

SD3: Abuelo opens the door. Naya is sitting in front of her laptop.

Abuelo: What’s going on, mi chiquita?

Naya: I’m just working on stuff for school.

Abuelo: Hmmm, really?

SD1: Abuelo sets down a plate of croquetas.

Abuelo: How about eating some real food instead of feeding your worry brain?

Naya: I can’t help it. All I can think about is everything that could go wrong.

Abuelo: Watching those videos only makes it worse.

SD2: Naya looks up at Abuelo.

Naya: Everyone is acting like this is just a big party.

Abuelo: We’re all worried. I was awake for a long time last night. But then I reminded myself that your mother has spent many years training for this.

Naya: That doesn’t mean that it will turn out OK.

Abuelo: True. Life is full of uncertainty. Does that mean you’re never going to take risks?

Naya: Mom is a hero. I’m . . . not like that.

Abuelo: There are all kinds of heroes in the world and a million ways to be brave.

SD3: Naya considers this.

Abuelo: Think of your burrowing owls. They don’t spend their whole lives hiding underground. When the time comes, they step out and fly.

SD1: Naya sits up a little straighter.

Abuelo: Stay in here as long as you need. But I hope you’ll join us for the launch.

SD2: Abuelo leaves. Naya takes a bite of a croqueta.

“Life is full of uncertainty. Does that mean you’re never going to take risks?”

Scene 6

The living room, soon after

SD3: Naya returns to the living room.

Tío David: Come sit here. We saved a place for you.

SD1: Naya takes a seat on the couch and focuses her attention on the TV screen.

Announcer 1: Here is a closer view of the capsule where the astronauts are strapped into their seats. They have closed their helmets and are now on suit oxygen.

Announcer 2: Above the capsule is the escape tower that can be used in the event of an emergency.

Announcer 1: All preflight checks are complete. The rocket is fully fueled and ready. We are GO for launch.

SD2: Naya takes a breath.

Announcer 2: Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . .

SD3: Naya and her family join in the countdown.

All: Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . LIFTOFF!

SD1: They hear the roar of the engines through the TV.

SD2: Bright orange flames shoot out of the boosters.

SD3: The rocket lifts off the ground.

All: Woo-hoo! Hooray!

Abuelo: There she goes! ¡Esa es mi hija!

Announcer 1: Everything is looking good. Soon we will see the rocket separating from the capsule.

SD1: On-screen, the rocket separates and falls back toward the ground.

Announcer 2: Phase one complete.

SD2: The camera inside the capsule shows Naya’s mother giving a thumbs-up sign.

Announcer 1: That’s Sonia Estrada-Diaz letting us know that the crew is doing well.

SD3: A few minutes later, a small stuffed animal is seen floating above the astronauts.

Announcer 2: What is that?

Announcer 1: A teddy bear?

SD1: Everyone in the living room turns to Naya.

Naya (with amazement): It’s a burrowing owl.

Announcer 2: It’s tradition for the astronauts to hang a talisman inside the capsule as a zero-gravity indicator. When it starts to float, you know you’re weightless.

Announcer 1: We just received this statement from NASA. It was written by Sonia Estrada-Diaz.

SD2: The voice changes to Mom’s.

Mom: People call me brave for going to space to explore what’s beyond our planet. But as my daughter taught me, it takes a different kind of courage to devote yourself to the little creatures on Earth, creatures that are vulnerable and often overlooked, like the burrowing owl.

SD3: Naya’s eyes well up.

Mom: To me, that’s the best of humanity and what I hope we’ll carry with us to the stars.

Announcer 2: There you go, folks. The burrowing owl. I’ll need to look that one up.

Abuelo: What are you thinking now, Naya?

SD1: Naya looks across the room at JJ and smiles.

Naya (laughing through tears): I’m thinking I need to make more flyers.

Writing Prompt

Imagine you’re Naya. Write an email to your mom on the International Space Station, telling her how your feelings changed from the beginning of launch day to the end and why. (You can include anything else you’d like, as long as you stay true to Naya’s character.)

This play was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

video (1)
Audio ()
Activities (8)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (2)
Answer Key (2)
video (1)
Audio ()
Activities (8)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (2)
Answer Key (2)
Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ (10 minutes)