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published by the NASA Engineering Design Challenge
This instructional unit challenges students to build a model thrust structure that is as light as possible, yet strong enough to withstand the load of a "launch-to-orbit" three times. Students first determine the amount of force needed to launch a model rocket to 1 meter, then they design, build, and test their own structure designs. In collaborative groups, they revise their designs to increase the strength and reduce the weight of their structure. Materials are all readily available at hardware stores.

Editor's Note:This module was designed by a NASA project team to connect students in the classroom with the challenges faced by NASA engineers as they design the next generation of spacecraft, habitat, and communications technologies.  The activities lead students through design and testing, the evaluation process, documentation of results, and final shared reports.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
- General
- Linear Momentum
= Rockets
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= Projectile Motion
- Newton's Second Law
= Force, Acceleration
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Problem Solving
General Physics
- Properties of Matter
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Collection
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Project
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Educators
- Parent/Guardians
- application/pdf
- video/quicktime
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Safety Warnings
Minimal Danger   No Safety Equipment Necessary  

Access Rights:
Free access
Does not have a copyright, license, or other use restriction.
drag, engineering module, engineering problem, experiment, guided inquiry, inquiry-based learning, project, rocket launcher, rocket project, thrust
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created May 1, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
October 18, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 18, 2007
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 6-8: 1B/M1b. Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
  • 6-8: 1B/M2ab. If more than one variable changes at the same time in an experiment, the outcome of the experiment may not be clearly attributable to any one variable. It may not always be possible to prevent outside variables from influencing an investigation (or even to identify all of the variables).

3. The Nature of Technology

3B. Design and Systems
  • 6-8: 3B/M4a. Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4b. The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, overdesign, and redundancy.

4. The Physical Setting

4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M2. Energy can be transferred from one system to another (or from a system to its environment) in different ways: 1) thermally, when a warmer object is in contact with a cooler one; 2) mechanically, when two objects push or pull on each other over a distance; 3) electrically, when an electrical source such as a battery or generator is connected in a complete circuit to an electrical device; or 4) by electromagnetic waves.
4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M2. Manufacturing usually involves a series of steps, such as designing a product, obtaining and preparing raw materials, processing the materials mechanically or chemically, and assembling the product. All steps may occur at a single location or may occur at different locations.

9. The Mathematical World

9B. Symbolic Relationships
  • 6-8: 9B/M3. Graphs can show a variety of possible relationships between two variables. As one variable increases uniformly, the other may do one of the following: increase or decrease steadily, increase or decrease faster and faster, get closer and closer to some limiting value, reach some intermediate maximum or minimum, alternately increase and decrease, increase or decrease in steps, or do something different from any of these.

11. Common Themes

11A. Systems
  • 6-8: 11A/M2. Thinking about things as systems means looking for how every part relates to others. The output from one part of a system (which can include material, energy, or information) can become the input to other parts. Such feedback can serve to control what goes on in the system as a whole.
  • 9-12: 11A/H2. Understanding how things work and designing solutions to problems of almost any kind can be facilitated by systems analysis. In defining a system, it is important to specify its boundaries and subsystems, indicate its relation to other systems, and identify what its input and output are expected to be.
  • 9-12: 11A/H4. Even in some very simple systems, it may not always be possible to predict accurately the result of changing some part or connection.
11B. Models
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
  • 6-8: 12C/M5. Analyze simple mechanical devices and describe what the various parts are for; estimate what the effect of making a change in one part of a device would have on the device as a whole.
12D. Communication Skills
  • 6-8: 12D/M6. Present a brief scientific explanation orally or in writing that includes a claim and the evidence and reasoning that supports the claim.
  • 6-8: 12D/M9. Prepare a visual presentation to aid in explaining procedures or ideas.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Ratios and Proportional Relationships (6-7)

Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems. (6)
  • 6.RP.1 Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
  • 6.RP.3.a Make tables of equivalent ratios relating quantities with whole number measurements, find missing values in the tables, and plot the pairs of values on the coordinate plane. Use tables to compare ratios.
  • 6.RP.3.b Solve unit rate problems including those involving unit pricing and constant speed.
Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. (7)
  • 7.RP.2.b Identify the constant of proportionality (unit rate) in tables, graphs, equations, diagrams, and verbal descriptions of proportional relationships.
  • 7.RP.2.d Explain what a point (x, y) on the graph of a proportional relationship means in terms of the situation, with special attention to the points (0, 0) and (1, r) where r is the unit rate.

The Number System (6-8)

Apply and extend previous understandings of numbers to the system of rational numbers. (6)
  • 6.NS.8 Solve real-world and mathematical problems by graphing points in all four quadrants of the coordinate plane. Include use of coordinates and absolute value to find distances between points with the same first coordinate or the same second coordinate.

Expressions and Equations (6-8)

Represent and analyze quantitative relationships between dependent and independent variables. (6)
  • 6.EE.9 Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation.
Solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations. (7)
  • 7.EE.4.a Solve word problems leading to equations of the form px + q = r and p(x + q) = r, where p, q, and r are specific rational numbers. Solve equations of these forms fluently. Compare an algebraic solution to an arithmetic solution, identifying the sequence of the operations used in each approach.
Understand the connections between proportional relationships, lines, and linear equations. (8)
  • 8.EE.5 Graph proportional relationships, interpreting the unit rate as the slope of the graph. Compare two different proportional relationships represented in different ways.

Statistics and Probability (6-8)

Summarize and describe distributions. (6)
  • 6.SP.4 Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.
  • 6.SP.5.a Reporting the number of observations.
  • 6.SP.5.c Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered.

Common Core State Reading Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects 6—12

Key Ideas and Details (6-12)
  • RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
  • RST.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (6-12)
  • RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity (6-12)
  • RST.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6—8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Common Core State Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6—12

Text Types and Purposes (6-12)
  • 2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes. (WHST.6-8.2)
Research to Build and Present Knowledge (6-12)
  • WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • WHST.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(NASA Engineering Design Challenge, Houston, 2000), WWW Document, (
NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures, (NASA Engineering Design Challenge, Houston, 2000), <>.
APA Format
NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures. (2007, November 18). Retrieved January 19, 2017, from NASA Engineering Design Challenge:
Chicago Format
NASA Engineering Design Challenge. NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures. Houston: NASA Engineering Design Challenge, November 18, 2007. (accessed 19 January 2017).
MLA Format
NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures. Houston: NASA Engineering Design Challenge, 2000. 18 Nov. 2007. 19 Jan. 2017 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures}, Publisher = {NASA Engineering Design Challenge}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {19 January 2017}, Month = {November 18, 2007}, Year = {2000} }
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%T NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures
%D November 18, 2007
%I NASA Engineering Design Challenge
%C Houston
%O application/pdf

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%D November 18, 2007
%T NASA Engineering Design Challenges: Spacecraft Structures
%I NASA Engineering Design Challenge
%V 2017
%N 19 January 2017
%8 November 18, 2007
%9 application/pdf

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