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Sari on Science: Make foam rocket flingers to celebrate the Apollo 11 lunar landing

In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, and this month marks 50 years since the historic event. At Arizona Science Center, we will be celebrating the anniversary of Apollo 11 lunar landing all month long, including an official Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Celebration on July 20, packed with space-themed activities throughout the Center.

And while the Saturn V rocket that propelled Apollo 11 into space was 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, mini rockets are a great way to observe the effects of propulsion, gravity and friction. In honor of this special anniversary, go ahead and create your own foam rocket flingers with a foam pool noodle and a few household items.

Items you’ll need:

  • Foam pool noodle (2¼-inch size works well)
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Utility knife or serrated kitchen knife
  • 2-3 rubber bands — thick, like size #64
  • Bamboo skewer (a large nail or screwdriver works, too)
  • Tape (colorful duct tape works well)
  • Scissors
  • Paper board (such as a cereal or cracker box)
  • Hot-glue gun (optional)
  • Stickers (optional)

Directions:

  • With an adult’s help, cut the pool noodle into 10- or 12-inch sections, each of which can be a rocket body.
  • Poke the skewer through the pool noodle about 1 inch from the top of the foam rocket body. Make sure it goes all the way through, so you have two matching holes on each side. Remove the skewer.
  • Use one of the rubber bands and fit it over the tip of the skewer. Push the rubber band through the holes you just made, so it runs across the middle opening and sticks out both sides.
  • Loop each end of the rubber band (one at a time) over the top of the pool noodle to secure it and put tension on it.
  • Use tape to secure the rubber band by wrapping it completely around the top of the tube.
  • Attach a second rubber band, which will be used to fling the rocket, to the middle of the first rubber band. To tie a knot, loop it through itself like you’re attaching a luggage tag.
  • Using the paper board and scissors, cut out three rocket fins.
  • Cut shallow incisions into the foam where you want to place your fins and inserts the fins into the foam.
  • Optional: With help from an adult, secure the fins with hot glue. Skip this if you want to swap out fins later.
  • Optional: Decorate your rocket with stickers, markers, etc.
  • Test your rocket! Put your finger in the rubber band (pointing away from you), pull back the foam rocket, and let go.

What’s happening?

Make observations about the flight of your rocket: How far does it go? What is the shape of the rocket’s path? Does it speed up or slow down the higher it goes?

This rocket’s thrust is all produced by the rubber band, unlike real rockets that use fuel. When you stretch the rubber band, the force of it contracting back to its original size when released causes a pull on the rocket body and an opposite pull against your finger, thus, propelling your rocket forward.

The rocket’s motion and course is affected by gravity and by drag or friction with the atmosphere. The foam rocket is stabilized by its fins which, like feathers on an arrow, keep the rocket on track in the desired direction.

What happens if you use different material for the fins? What happens if the fins were thicker, thinner or a different shape? What happens when you change the number of fins or use none at all? What happens if you use thicker/thinner or longer/shorter rubber bands?

Kara G. Morrison
Kara G. Morrison
Kara G. Morrison is the editor of Raising Arizona Kids and the mother of Sofia (8).

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