The science concepts in this stage are thermal energy, heat, surface area and air resistance.

The students study the different atmospheres of Earth and Mars. The main concern for a safe landing is heat - and designing an effective shield to protect the astronauts from burning up when entering the Mars atmosphere. Students will learn about what heat is, where it comes from, how it transfers, and different types of energies and radiation as they work through designing their heat shield. They will test how effective their shields are at protecting an “eggstronaut” (a raw egg) from the heat of a propane torch. In addition, students will design parachutes to soften the landing on Mars, taking into consideration air resistance, mass, and surface area. And finally, the teams will choose landing sites based on studies of Mars topography.


Students were challenged to create a TPS (Thermal Protection System) that protected their “eggstronaut” for 3 minutes of exposure to high temperature, was thin, light, and inexpensive. They were provided with materials such as foil, cotton balls, lasagna noodles, spackling, pennies, cloth, cork, and metal hardware cloth from which to construct their heat shields. They tracked why they chose to use certain materials, the results of the heat tests, as well as the total cost to construct their TPS. The team with the thinnest, cheapest, lightest level of insulation that successfully protected their eggstronaut would earn the most points for this assignment - and likely earn the NASA contract.

The students decorated their raw eggstronauts with markers and set them on the protected side of their heat shield. On the other side was a heat source. The students measured the temperature on both sides of the heat shield during the test. Successful shields maintained a lower level of heat on the protected side of the TPS, but the ultimate test was whether their eggstronaut “cooked” during the experiment.


Thermal protection was just one of the problems our engineers had to solve in order to land safely on Mars. In Phase 2, our student engineers were challenged to design and build a landing vehicle taking into consideration the relative speed and force they would encounter landing astronauts on the planet surface. In order to better understand these forces, the students constructed helicopters using different sizes and weights of paper. They were asked to predict the size and weight of the helicopter they thought would take the longest to fall when dropped from the top of the stairwell at the school’s front entrance. Then they tested the speed of each and applied the data they collected in the design of their Mars landing crafts.


Students were given access to materials, limitations on how much of these materials they could use in their landers, and a budget of $100 to design, test and complete a vehicle that would land two astronauts (this time represented by two large marshmallows) safely on the Mars surface.

They were given 1 piece of cardboard as the platform for the cabin and a small cup as the cabin to hold their marshmallow astronauts. They could use index cards, mini marshmallows, rubber-bands, plastic straws, sheets of printer paper, small balloons, and tape (to hold it all together). A successful landing was based on the time the lander took to fall, whether it landed right side up, and kept the marshmallow astronauts in the cabin.

At the end of the lander tests, students presented their results to fellow classmates, including: the initial design of their lander, and changes they made based on the tests and why, average fall time in their test landings, astronaut survival rates, costs, and any changes they would have made if they had the opportunity to repeat the experiment and cost was not a factor.

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