Instructions

  • 1

    Here are some of the materials you can use

    • 3 index cards (3 x 5 in. [8 x 13 cm])
    • 10 marshmallows (miniature size)
    • 2 marshmallows (regular size)
    • 1 piece of cardboard (4 x 5 in. [10 x 13 cm])
    • 8 plastic straws
    • 3 rubber bands
    • scissors
    • 1 small paper cup
    • tape
  • 2

    Prepare ahead of time 

    • Have paper and a pencil ready to write down ideas and sketches as you design.
    • Think of things that might absorb the shock of an impact, or the force of a crash in a landing. How does the material absorb the shock?
    • Think of things that have shock absorbers. (Cars, spacecraft, running shoes, your body)
    • TIP: Soft, springy things, like balloons, marshmallows, cotton balls, foam, and air-filled packing material make good shock absorbers.
    • TIP: Your body has its own shock absorbers. When you jump off a high step, you bend your back and knees to absorb some of the energy and break your fall. That’s what a shock absorber does—it absorbs the energy of an impact.
  • 3

    Think about the challenge

    • How will you make sure the spacecraft doesn’t tip over as it falls through the air? When it lands?
    • What forces, or pressure or impact, will affect the spacecraft as it falls? 
    • TIP: Due to the increase in speed because of gravity (the force that pulls things down), the spacecraft will gain more energy as it falls. 
    • TIP: The spacecraft will slow down because of the air resistance. This is a force that acts in the opposite direction when something falls. 
  • 4

    Think about and write down ideas

    • How will you arrange the shock absorbers so they absorb the most impact?
    • What things other than shock absorbers do you need to think about to help protect the astronauts? (The regular size marshmallows will act as the astronauts.) 
    • How will you position the astronaut’s cabin on the flat platform at the top of the spacecraft? 
    • TIP: If you evenly distribute the weight on top of the platform, it will help keep the spacecraft from tipping over as it falls.
    • TIP: Inventors’ and engineers’ first ideas rarely solve a problem. They brainstorm ideas, try different ideas, learn from mistakes, and try again––this is part of the design process.
  • 5

    Look at the materials 

    • What types of materials will absorb the shock of an impact, or force of the crash? 
    • How many shock absorbers will your spacecraft need to make a softer landing? 
    • How will you keep the astronauts (marshmallows) from falling out of the cabin?
  • 6

    Design and build the shock-absorbing system

    • Decide what materials you will use to make your shock absorbers. 
    • Think about cushions and springs.
    • Choose your materials.
    • TIP: Mini-marshmallows can serve as soft footpads. Cards can be folded into springs. Straws can provide a flexible structure. Rubber bands can flex and hold things together. 
  • 7

    Design and build the shock-absorbing system (continued)

    • Decide if your spacecraft will have more than one type of shock absorber.
    • Choose your materials and build the shock absorbers.
  • 8

    Assemble the shock-absorbing system

    • Choose the material you will use as a platform, or the surface where the astronaut’s cabin will sit.
    • Decide how you will attach the shock absorbers to the bottom of the platform.
    • Attach the shock absorbers.
    • TIP: If you make the parts below the platform weigh more than the parts on the top, it will help the spacecraft fall straight down. 
  • 9

    Test the shock-absorbing system

    • Check the springiness of your shock absorbers.
    • Drop the spacecraft to see if it bounces.
    • TIP: Test a design at different steps along the process of working through the challenge. This way you can spot a problem when it happens instead of at the end of the process. This is part of the design process. Engineers use information they learn from tests to improve a design before going any further.
  • 10

    Design and build a cabin

    • Decide what materials you will use to make a cabin. 
    • Think about how you will attach the cabin to the spacecraft.
    • Build the cabin and attach it securely to the platform.
    • TIP: If you distribute the weight evenly on top of the platform, it will help prevent the spacecraft from tipping over as it falls through the air.
  • 11

    Design and build a cabin (continued)

    • Decide how you will keep the astronauts (marshmallows) inside the cabin (cup) when your spacecraft lands. 
    • Finish building the cabin. 
    • TIP: You have just built a prototype, which is an early version of a product. Prototypes help engineers understand a product’s strengths and weaknesses and how the product might be improved.
  • 12

    Test your design

    • Place two astronauts (marshmallows) into the cabin.
    • Drop your spacecraft from 1 foot (30 cm) above the table or floor.
    • Make adjustments if needed and then retest. 
    • TIP: If the cabin (cup) tips over as it falls through the air, make sure it’s level when you release it. Or check that it is centered on the platform. 
    • TIP: If the astronauts (marshmallows) bounce out of the cup, try changing the number or position of the shock absorbers. Or try making the springs less springy. 
  • 13

    Did you know?

    • Risky Landing
      The first people who landed on the moon took a big risk. That's because the moon is covered with a think layer of fine dust. No one knew how deep or soft this laery of dust was. Would a spacecraft sink out of sight when it landed? Now we know— the layer is firm. The Apollo 11’s lander pads sank only about 2 inches (5 cm) into the dust. What a relief! This helped NASA figure out the kinds of shock absorbers and landing systems its spacecraft needed.

     

  • 14

    Try this next!

    • How high can you go? Drop your spacecraft from 2 feet (0.6 m), 3 feet (0.9 m), or as high as you can go. You can also increase the challenge by adding a third marshmallow “astronaut” to your cup.
    • Change the spring sizes. See if the number of folds in an index card makes a difference in the amount of force the spring can absorb. Fold index cards with two, four, and six folds. Test them to see how much of a difference these springs make in how softly a spacecraft touches down.