Moon Impact

NASA engineers often have to design spacecraft to launch objects on their own. Learn about the LCROSS spacecraft which found evidence of water on the moon by shooting a rocket at the moon. Then, build and design your own spacecraft to launch an object at an image of the moon.

Video Courtesy NASA

Moon Impact Design Challenge

In this activity, your task will be to use a moving plastic cup to drop a marble onto a moon target. The following procedure is a sample design which is not automated. You are encouraged to modify the sample design or come up with your own design to complete the task. Try coming up with an automated mechanism!

Bonus Challenge: Build a completely automated (does it by itself) mechanism to launch your marble (or similar) onto the moon target. 

In this design, I pull a string attached to a cup when it is directly above the moon target, which tilts the cup and drops the marble onto the target.

Materials

Sample Materials (but feel free to create launch design with safe materials of your choice):

  • Plastic Cup

  • String or Dental Floss

  • Paper Clip

  • Scissor

  • Tape

  • Marble

Step 1

Use string that is at least 5 feet long. Tie one end of the string to a chair (or similar object) and tie the other end to another object, so that one end of the string is about two or more feet higher than the other end of the string.  Have a parent help you find a safe place to do this activity. If you need help tying knots in the string, ask an adult for help. (Floss is not recommended for this step, as the stickiness of the floss may interfere with any object sliding down the floss.) 

Step 2

Use a scissor to make a slit near the top of the plastic cup. Stick one part of the paper clip through the slit as pictured below. The cup should be able to hang by the paper clip.

Step 3

On the side of the cup where you just made a slit, use a scissor to make another slit near the bottom of the plastic cup. Thread a separate 3-4 foot long string (or piece of floss) through this slit and tape this other string in place from the inside of the cup.

Step 4

On the opposite side of the cup at the bottom of the cup, make a hole large enough for a marble to roll out. 

Step 5

From the printable cutout sheet for this activity, cut out the moon target along the dotted lines. Place the cutout target underneath the lower end of the string. 

 

Attach the cup to the higher end of the string (from step 1) by looping the paper clip over that part of the string.  The cup should now hang down below the high end of the string.  While holding the cup steady there, place the marble inside the cup.  Then, let go of the cup and give it a gentle push.  As the cup goes down, pull on the other string/floss taped to the cup (from step 3) when the cup is directly over the moon target.

 

This can be tricky at first, so practice it multiple times. Remember, this is only a sample design; you are encouraged to modify your design to make it work even better!

Images of Pillars of Creation, Future Mars Base, Curiosity Rover, Milky Way, Moon, and International Space Station are courtesy of NASA. Image of Earth's atmosphere courtesy of Science Museum of Exploration.