Parents, Educators & Engineers

Mission: Solar System

Invisible Force

Design a setup so that when a steel ball rolls past a magnet, it changes direction and hits a target that's sitting off to the side.

Can you change the direction of a speeding object using invisible forces? It happens all the time! We use gravity when we play catch or land a plane, and scanning devices use magnetism to direct beams of electrons. To change a spacecraft's speed and direction, NASA engineers use a planet's or moon's gravity, a process called a "gravity assist." In this video, kids design and build systems that use magnets to control the speed and direction of a rolling ball. The video shows kids using the engineering design process, applying a variety of science concepts (e.g., force, magnetic fields, Newton’s 1st Law, inverse square law), and learning about how NASA spacecraft use gravity to help them explore the solar system.

Related Activity

Invisible Force

Want to do this challenge with kids? Download the leader notes and handout.
Download (PDF)

Related NASA Video

Gravity-Assisted Travel

See how the New Horizons spacecraft used the gravity of Jupiter to dramatically change course.
Download Quicktime video (4.8 MB)
Watch now on NASA

(Scroll to "Mission Trajectory.")


Related Engineer Video

Victoria Garcia

NASA aerospace engineer Victoria Garcia describes how she uses virtual-reality tools to design living and work spaces for astronauts. She also talks about not letting her deafness be a barrier in her life. Watch now