Wednesday, May 30, 2012

USASEF: The NASA/Design Squad Marshmallow Astronauts

A spacecraft shuttling astronauts to the moon has two challenges. First, it has to slow from 18,000 miles per hour to a safe landing speed. Then it needs to land gently enough to keep the astronauts safe. This challenge, sponsored by NASA/Design Squad at USASEF, was to build a landing craft that could absorb the shock of a landing without bouncing out all the little marshmallow astronauts. (These instructions are adapted from the NASA/Design Squad Touchdown handout.)

Materials:
1 piece of stiff paper or cardboard (about 4*5 in)
1 small paper cup (this holds the astronauts)
3 index cards
2 regular marshmallows (these are the astronauts)
10 miniature marshmallows
3 rubber bands
8 plastic straws
scissors
tape


Build
1. Design a shock-absorbing system (think springs and cushions).
2. Build spacecraft by attaching shock absorbers to the cardboard platform.
3. Tape the cup to the cardboard platform to hold the astronauts. Cup must be right-side up, with no lid--no cheating!


Test
Drop the lander from the height of one foot. If the astronauts fall out, modify your design. For instance, you can
--make sure the weight is evenly balanced so that the lander doesn't tip the astronauts out
--add soft pads or change shock absorbers so astronauts don't bounce out.

The "landers" I saw also had fins or paper wings, which slowed them down as they fell. This must be simulating an Earth landing, as the moon has no atmosphere to slow down a lander, no matter how many wings it has!

More info about the sponsors at:
pbs.org/designsquad
nasa.gov

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