Summer Reading Club Activities: Super Cool Spaceship Stuff

The theme for this week is Blast Off! These activities are full of space related machinery and a goodly amount of oomph.

Activity 1: Build a Model Spacecraft

Design and build your own model spacecraft! Make it out of any materials and objects you find. We’ll give you a few suggestions.

Most spacecraft have parts that do certain jobs. Here are some of the parts and jobs they do:

  • A container (like a box) to be the body of the spacecraft and hold the computer and electronics. This part is called the spacecraft “bus.”
  • Something to keep the computer and electronics warm out in cold space (for example, a space blanket).
  • Something to supply electric power (for example, solar panels).
  • Some instruments to make science measurements or take pictures.
  • Some way to communicate with Earth (both to send data and to receive commands).
  • Some way to slow down, speed up, or change the direction of the spacecraft (like thrusters) to keep it on course or in the right orbit.
  • Something to let the spacecraft know where it is and where it is going (for example, a star finder camera; for Earth orbiters, it might be a receiver for signals from the network of Global Positioning Satellites).

Try and include some of these basic spaceship parts in your model! Before you begin crafting, it might be necessary to plan ahead. Write your ideas, or draw a diagram of your ship, on a piece of paper. Then go forth to collect your materials. This is our diagram:

The bare-minimum diagram

Ps. It’s okay if your plans change as you build! Ours definitely did. Trying again and again is part of science.

There are many other parts, but the ones above are some of the basics. The spacecraft you design can be small or large. Here are some examples of materials you might use. This list is just a start. Use anything you can find.

  • Juice box, gelatin or pudding box, shoe box, large cardboard box or carton, cardboard tube
  • Aluminum foil, foil gift wrap paper, construction paper, butcher paper, any kind of paper colored with paint or crayon, flat pieces of cardboard, transparent colored plastic film (for example, mylar)
  • Popsicle® sticks, wooden skewers, wooden chopstick, yardstick, bamboo plant stakes, pencils, any kind of sticks
  • Styrofoam or paper egg cartons, small styrofoam balls, clay, paper cups.
  • Paper bowls and plates, plastic bowls, Frisbee® disks
  • Cotton swabs, screws, bolts, paper clips
  • Metal soup spoons or soup ladles
  • Fishing line, thread, or string to hang the model spacecraft in “space”
  • Scissors 
  • Tape
  • White glue
  • Poster Tac® (reusable plastic adhesive), plasticene clay, or some other sticky stuff to attach parts

Then you’re ready to build! We put all of our materials in one, easy-to-reach place and it became craft central.

Aaaaand, it just got messier. But it was loads of fun!!

This is Julye’s very messy desk.

Attaching the solar panels was the trickiest part of this build! Make sure you have a safe place for it to rest while it dries.

Ours is resting in the craft basket.

Here is our finished spacecraft! As you can see, we have labeled some of the important parts from our list above.

Send us pictures of your spaceship at summerreading@tnrd.ca

Activity 2: Balloon Rockets!

Ready to test some rockets? They go really fast! We’re sure you’ll love this balloon rocket science experiment.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • Balloon(s) (round ones will work but longer balloons are better)
  • Scissors
  • String (10-15ft)
  • Tape
  • Plastic straw OR rocket craft out of a toilet paper roll

Here’s What You Do:

If using a rocket from a toilet paper roll, craft it up before proceeding to the balloon portion of this activity.

Crafting Interlude~

You can colour your rocket ship or wrap coloured craft paper around it to make different designs. You can also wrap aluminum foil around your rocket ship to make it metallic and cool looking. Get creative!

Then, cut a triangle from coloured paper wider than the toilet paper roll. Cut two slits on the bottom of the toilet paper roll directly across from each other. The triangle will slide right in and act as tail flaps.

Lastly, you’ll want to cut a circle out of construction paper and cut once, to the centre of the circle to make a cone. Then line the inside of the cone with glue and glue it to the toilet paper roll. This will take a minute, so hold it there for a minute or two.

Now you’re ready for the balloon portion of this activity!

Crafting Interlude Over~

Super Secret: We cheated and used our toilet paper craft from science fiction week for our rocket ship. Sir Waldo Emerson, the robot, finally earned his pilot’s license. This was his debut flight.

Sir Waldo Emerson, the robot,

Firstly, measure your string out and tie one end to a stable surface like a door handle or the back of a chair. We used book carts, because that’s what is available in the library.

Pull the other end of the string through your rocket ship or straw. It’s helpful to tape your straw/rocket ship/robot before attaching it to the balloon.

Pull the string tight and tie it to another stable surface.

Inflate the balloon, but don’t tie it, and secure it with tape to your rocket ship/straw.

Now, let fly!

The balloon can be blown and released once more, but it might not fly as nice. The first flight is always the best, so make sure you have lots of balloons. Try flying it up or down stairs!

Different balloon sizes and shapes will create more or less thrust. In a real rocket, the thrust is created by the combustion force of the rocket fuel as the rocket blasts mechanize – as the engines explode down, the rocket goes up!

Pro-tip: the balloons that are the longest and skinniest work the best.

Attach your rocket ship to the thinnest part of the balloon, near the opening. But not too close or the tape will close the opening as your balloon flies.

Make it a real experiment. The above project is a demo. To make it a true experiment, you can try answering these questions:

  • Does the shape of the balloon affect the speed of the rocket?
  • Does the length of the straw affect how far the rocket travels?
  • Does the type of rope affect how far the rocket travels? (Try the same experiment with fishing line, a nylon chain, cotton rope, etc.)
  • Does the angle of the rope affect how far the rocket travels?

For more information about the science behind thrust and rocket ships head to our ScienceFlix Database to check out their articles thrust, space, and air science.

This is our most successful flight:

But there were also plenty of less successful flights:

Behind the Scenes

Yes, yes it did take 3 book carts to complete this activity.

We’d love to see your set-up! If you want to share any behind-the-scenes photos, email us at summerreading@tnrd.ca.