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Rockets Away

Saturn V photo
This image shows The Saturn V rocket which helped send the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Blast off occurred on July 16th, 1969. Image courtesy of the Apollo 11 30th Anniversary Web Page.
Required Materials

1 - ball of string at least 30 feet (9 meters) long

1 - plastic soda straw

1 - roll of masking tape

1 - pair of scissors

Several balloons

1 - measuring tape

1 - ball-point pen


This activity will demonstrate some of the basic principles behind rocketry. You'll build a simple "rocket" with ordinary household materials.

1. Thread one end of the string through the drinking straw.
2. Attach it to something stable, like a curtain rod or a heavy piece of furniture. Be careful that no one trips over the string.
3. Have someone inflate a balloon and hold the air inside without tying it.
While someone holds the other end of the string taut, attach the balloon to the straw with the masking tape.
5. Release the air from the balloon.
6. Measure and record the distance it moves.

This simple activity demonstrates how rockets work. They carry containers filled with substances that, when ignited, produce gases. These gases escape through vents in the rear of the rocket. The gases going backward drive the rocket forward. This force demonstrates the principle of action and reaction. You can also try this experiment outdoors using a much longer piece of string.

Derived from "Finding the Size of the Sun and the Moon": from Living and Learning in the Space Age, by Jeff Crelinsten ©1988.

globe icon Learn more about NASA Human Space Flight.

globe icon Learn more about Robert H. Goddard: American Rocket Pioneer.

globe icon Learn more about the Saturn V rocket on the Apollo 11 30th Anniversary Web page.

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