Have you ever wondered why a rocket has a very different shape from an airplane? It has to do with the air (or lack of air) each one moves through.
You may not think about air being heavy or strong until you experience a windy day or a storm, like a derecho. The atmosphere closer to earth has air that is heavier and denser than the lighter, thinner air higher in the atmosphere. And in outer space there is no air at all!
Airplanes use turbine engines (to push) or propellers (to pull) themselves forward through the air. As heavy air moves under and over their wings, it creates an upward force, or lift, that moves airplanes up into the air. Turbine engines and propellers don’t work well in the lighter, thinner air higher in the atmosphere, or in outer space.
Instead, rockets use a process called combustion, which quickly burns fuel to create exhaust gases. As the exhaust gas is thrown very fast out the back of the rocket, it creates an equal and opposite force, called thrust, which pushes the rocket forward and up.
For your paper rocket, you’ll use a sharp puff of air through a drinking straw to create the force you need to make it fly. Once you make and launch your paper rocket, change the design to see if you can make it fly even farther!
How to make a rocket from straws
You will need:
• Sharpened pencil
• Ruler (optional)
1. Cut out a paper rectangle for the rocket body and decorate it if you want.
2. Wrap the paper rectangle around the pencil lengthwise to make a tube and tape it to secure it.
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3. Cut out four fins (triangle shapes) for the rocket. Tape the fins onto the bottom of the rocket body.
4. Twist and pinch the top of the rocket body tube around the sharpened end of a pencil carefully. This will help you make the nose cone of the paper rocket. Place a small piece of tape if needed on the nose cone to seal it up. Why does the nose cone need to be sealed?
5. Prepare to launch! Remove the pencil and place your rocket over the straw. Be sure your launch area is clear of people and hazards. Then, blow into the straw to launch your rocket outward. Use a yardstick or tape measure to see how far the rocket traveled, then record it on a piece of paper. For each launch, write down the distance and the changes you made.
While you experiment with your rocket, think about changes you could make, such as the length of the nose cone or different fin shapes, to make your rocket launch even farther. Then launch again and again! Think about what worked well with your rocket and what you might want to change after each test.
How did your design impact your rocket launch? Use your data to help you answer this question. With permission, share your learning with others and a photo of your rocket on social media using the hashtags #4hAtHome or #IowaSpaceGrantConsortium.
This lesson was made possible through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Iowa 4-H Youth Development and the partnership with the Iowa Space Grant Consortium.
To get your child involved in fun learning opportunities, check out Clover Kids (grades K-3), 4-H (grades 4-12), Lego Teams, and hands-on educational kits for checkout at extension.iastate.edu/linn/4h.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Linn County helps build a strong Iowa by engaging Iowans in research, education, and extension experiences to address current and emerging real-life challenges. The 4-H Youth Development program empowers youth to reach their full potential through youth-adult partnerships and research-based experiences.