Rockets: From Drinking Straw to Flying Machine

By Mathis, Paul; Pieper, Jon T. | Children's Technology and Engineering, December 2010 | Go to article overview
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Rockets: From Drinking Straw to Flying Machine

Mathis, Paul, Pieper, Jon T., Children's Technology and Engineering


Rockets are commonly found in fireworks, ejection seats, launch vehicles for artificial satellites, human spaceflight, aircraft, and other vehicles that obtain thrust from a rocket engine. The basic model-rocket fad really "took off" during the 1960's space race, so the typical model-rocket science fair project has been implemented in classrooms across America for over five decades. What could possibly be new to explore from this project-based activity? How about engineering concepts? Well, there are resources available today to utilize common household artifacts to build simple model rockets that can be used to explore important science and engineering concepts. In this column, we will explore how you can introduce Newton's laws of motion, build a model straw rocket using the resources featured here, and how to test engineering design with the construction of the rocket.



During the later part of the 17th century, the foundation for modern space travel was laid out by the great English scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Newton stated three important scientific principles that govern the motion of all objects, whether on Earth or in space. Knowing these principles, now called Newton's Laws of Motion, rocketeers have been able to construct the modern rockets of the 20th century such as the Saturn V and the Space Shuttle. The shortened versions of Newton's Laws of Motion are:

* Objects at rest will stay at rest, and objects in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

* Force is equal to mass times acceleration. F=MA

* For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

An unbalanced force must be exerted for a rocket to lift off from a launch pad and to change speed or direction (Newton's first law). In the case of the straw model rocket, a drop-rod weight is used to provide the pneumatic force that generates the push to move the rocket. The amount of thrust or force produced by the drop rod will be determined by the mass of the rod. The greater the mass, the larger the amount of force created (Newton's second law). The force required to get the rocket off the ground is determined by the thrust generated (Newton's third law). These principles apply to any rocket, from a toy water rocket to the launch of the space shuttle. One of the interesting facts about the history of rockets is that, while rockets and rocket-powered devices have been in use for more than two thousand years, it has been only in the last three hundred years that scientists have had a scientific basis for understanding how they work.

the resource

Although not propelled by fuel, the Straw Rocket Package created by Pitsco provides a simple way to address the basic concepts of aeronautics and rocketry. The package includes the Dr. Zoon Straw Rocket Video as well as all the materials needed to build the straw rockets and straw rocket launcher that will put student-designed rockets into the air.

The Dr. Zoon Straw Rocket DVD is the ideal introduction to get kids excited about simple concepts of flight. With his red polka dot bow tie and blue lab coat, Dr. Zoon talks about projectile motion, the effects of changing forces, and other key concepts to create a fun learning experience for students. The video also includes the step-by-step process for the construction of the rockets and the steps it takes to make the rocket airborne. The Straw Rocket Class Pack includes all the materials needed for students to create their own rockets. The pack includes precision straws for the body of the rocket, clay to create a nose cone that also doubles as plug for the end straw, and card-stock-like material for the creation of the fins.

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