Some of you may have heard in the news recently that NASA named SpaceX as the winner of its recent lunar lander design solicitation for returning astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next few years. The three finalists consisted of Dynetics, SpaceX and the Blue Origin led National Team. The designs were all very distinct from each other and addressed the challenges of landing astronauts on the surface of the Moon and returning them to lunar orbit in very different ways. You can see the designs here

The SpaceX design represents a single-stage lander that will be the tallest object to ever land on the Moon. Current designs show it to be 165 feet tall! Young patrons are impressed with the unique designs of the landers and even comparing those to the Lunar Module that Neil Armstrong piloted to the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Kids can take their turn constructing a lunar lander. This activity is great at helping kids understand Newtons Laws of Motion and energy transfer. Through repeated drop tests, design changes can be made to help ensure the astronauts (2 mini-marshmallows) safely land on the surface.

A different version of the lander project which includes a slightly different supply list (Which can be helpful depending on what supplies you have on hand)  can be found here

Depending on the age of participants, I have had them drop them from an outstretched arm at shoulder height, or they can stand on a chair and drop them the same way. Using a smartphone to film the drop tests in slow-motion was a great way for everyone to see how the structures absorb and transfer the energy to different parts of the vehicle they have created. Lots of cheers for anyone that managed to keep both “marshmallownauts” in the cup after landing. It is harder to do than it looks, and I loved seeing teams run back to their work tables to try design changes to elicit a better result on the next landing attempt.

For 5th grade and higher age groups, an egg-drop lander can be the perfect challenge. It is the same concept as the marshmallow landers but with the added difficulty of a drop from a greater height and to be able to keep an egg from cracking.

and for an alternate pyramid design template with balloons for the challenge, check out this Mars Egg Lander challenge inspired by the landing bag system used on the Opportunity and Spirit landings.

Depending on the layout of your building, you can use a stairwell for the drop tests, or as we do at the Hudson Area Library, from our 2nd floor balcony overlooking our lobby. I tape off a rectangle on the lobby floor, repurpose a few of our “Caution: Wet Floor” signs to block off the area from foot traffic for the short time we will be testing. I also enlist an aid to be with students on the balcony to supervise the drop tests while I monitor the landing area from the lobby to ensure no one accidently walks into the landing zone. As before, if you can film the drop tests with a slow motion feature, it really helps participants to see how the impact forces effect their design.  Wishing you a Summer filled with happy landings!