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Sari on Science: Space helmet challenge

Space exploration is incredibly important. It helps us explore the universe and understand our solar system, including the big blue planet we live on! One important and often overlooked feature of crewed space exploration is the spacesuit. These engineering wonders are unique and complex, having to provide protection, mobility and life support to the crew members wearing them.

Did you know: A space suit weighs approximately 280 pounds — without the astronaut — and it takes 45 minutes to put on!

A helmet is a vital part of the space suit. It keeps the suit pressurized, makes up part of the ventilation system for breathing, provides visor shades that protect astronauts from the sun’s harsh rays and can protect the astronaut from any sudden impacts. Can you engineer a space helmet focused only on impact safety? Using an egg to represent an astronaut, try engineering a safe space helmet to protect your “astronaut” when dropped from up high.

Supplies:

  • One egg
  • One sandwich bag
  • One empty water bottle
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Collect small/recycled materials around the house such as:

  • Cotton balls
  • Balloons
  • Small pieces of fabric
  • Tissue paper
  • Cardboard
  • Popsicle sticks
  • String
  • Rubber bands
  • Construction paper
  • Stickers

Instructions:

  1. Place egg in a sandwich bag and then set it aside.
  2. Cut the water bottle and use it to create a base for your helmet however you’d like. Design internal padding made from your collected materials.
  3. Lay out your small/recycled materials that can be used as the outside or cushioning for your helmet.
  4. Using your pencil and paper, design a plan. Draw and label needed materials. There is no wrong answer — get creative!
  5. Start engineering your helmet! Keep the egg in the bag for easy clean-up in the event that it breaks.
  6. When your helmet design is complete, determine your drop testing site. For example, you can stand on a chair and drop from your hands or find a safe high space from which to drop your helmet.
  7. It’s test time! Drop the helmet and see what happens. Was your “astronaut” protected? If it didn’t crack, congratulations, your helmet was successful! If it did crack, don’t worry. Try making changes to your helmet design and re-test.

What’s happening?

In this activity, engineers try to create a container/helmet that allows an egg to safely fall from up high without breaking. Gravity is a force that pulls on mass — how much matter or “stuff” something is made of — and Earth’s gravity pulls on us to keep us anchored to the ground. Here, gravity pulls the helmet to the ground when it’s dropped.

The padding surrounding your egg in the helmet cushions it inside the container, like airbags in a car during an accident. The external protection you create on the outside of the helmet protects the egg by absorbing the impact felt when it hits the ground. This activity is a fun take on the engineering design process used to help guide problem-solving. Here, the challenge focuses on planning and creating a model of the helmet, testing the helmet, and changing or improving the design of the helmet over again until the model is successful.

Want to learn more?

To explore more about space, visit the Astronaut exhibit at Arizona Science Center through May to investigate the reality of what it takes to be a space explorer through hands-on and full-body displays. Visit azscience.org

Sari Custerhttp://azscience.org
Sari Custer is a lifelong science junkie, Chief Science and Curiosity Officer at Arizona Science Center, and mom to daughter Carson (6). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SariOnScience and find Arizona Science Center at azscience.org

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