Friday, December 7th, 2012...4:21 PM

Physics & Rocket Science

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This was the fourth of five Saturday Science Academy (SSA) events to be hosted by the Science Program of Northwest Indian College (NWIC) for the Fall Quarter 2012.  Gary Brandt, the NWIC instructor in computer science, leads a team of NWIC students to build large, live rockets for national competition. Today he and some of his students helped guide participants in discussions and the construction of personalized rockets.


  Each student watched intently as Gary demonstrated the overall flight of an aircraft, modeling the action of the four forces acting on that aircraft to allow it to fly.  The first was weight (gravity) which pulls the aircraft down back toward the earth which is counter acted by the force of lift.  The third and fourth forces of thrust and drag examined the propellant that helped push the aircraft forward and the competing forces like wind that would divert the aircraft from its intended destination. 


Using simple 2-liter bottles as the body of the rocket and political signs as the fins, participants created their own unique rocket design.  Some student’s rockets were tall and thin and others were short and squat.  When it came time to launch, despite the rain, students filled their rockets with water (propellant), strapped them to the PVC pipe launcher and with some added pressure, exploded their rocket to life.  Each rocket had a flight path as unique as its design.  Student approximated and recorded the height and distance each rocket flew.  Some rockets went as high as 10 feet; others flew as high as 300+ feet into the air.


 In the afternoon, students got dry and warm with a good lunch and settled in to watch video of the Spitzer Telescope Launch and the amazing pictures (like the Hubble Telescope) taken of the universe of stars, planets, nebula and moons.  Additionally, the students watched another video of the final NASA Endeavour Space Shuttle mission and the work that astronauts were completing on the International Space Station before the end of the NASA astronaut program.


 Finally, participants began building their final paper rocket project with the goal of mapping out the trajectory of the rocket toward a target at a distance of 50ft.  Again, different designs (nose cone shape, number of fins, body length, etc) all contributed to unique launch outcomes.  Some went into the ceiling rafters, others blew apart under the high pressure, and still others shot across the room, nearly striking the target by inches.  The day ended with lots of keen excitement and desire to continue shooting off rockets.


  • Great! My kids love making rockets. We make paper and plastic water rockets.

  •   Nathanael Davis
    December 19th, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    Hey Jack, Thanks for your comments…Building and launching rockets is one of my students favorite activities. If you have any fun ideas and engaging activities that our students might be interested in trying, please pass them along. Take care! :)

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