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Week 1 – Mission to Mars

By 9th April 2019 April 11th, 2019 SirLucian's School of Solutions

Summer of Stem 2018

A themed exploration of aerodynamics, rockets and other outer space related things

My first attempt at formally teaching, and my first time overseeing a group of young kids. I was excited, but at the same time, the thought was daunting. I needn’t have been nervous though, the kids were pleasant and polite, and generally a pleasure. I learned quite a lot. I hope they learned something too, but if nothing else I hope I sparked some curiosity here and there, and maybe sent someone down the path to an exciting career in STEM.

We began this module by exploring the most fundamental basics of rocket science. As eyes glassed over, I thought, to hell with it, and we moved on to the fun stuff. Making our first rockets. (Unfortunately the photos of this section have been lost)

I assemble the PVC rocket launcher while the kids got to decorate their rockets and cut out and add fins. Some had the bright idea to add nose cones for additional aerodynamics, but these were somewhat difficult to attach, seeing as I didn’t have a net with tabs at my disposal.

I had an old LEGO Mindstorms set, which we used to build a mars rover on the one day, adding bump detection. As I had no way of programming the device (it being from the early or perhaps even pre 2000’s), it’s functionality was rather limited.

To demonstrate the core principle of placing COG (centre of gravity) further towards the nose than the COP (centre of pressure), we first tried the paper stomp rockets without adding weight to the nose. Then again with additional weight. To be honest, the improvement was not extremely noticeable, the build quality of the rockets seemed to make the most noticeable difference. Our first launches were done vertically, and while this was fun, it was difficult to quantify the rockets’ success. Further launches were executed at a 45 degree angle and the success was measured by how far from the launch site the rocket landed.

From there, we explored other means of propulsion. The pressurised water bottle being rather popular, even more after a few launches because I got soaked when launching out my hand due to fin failure.

I gave a brief theoretical rundown on the science behind a Galileo telescope, and we built one out of large and small PVC piping, magnifying glasses, and when those results were less than extraordinary, a professional telescope eyepiece lens that I brought from home.

We made, and of course decorated a few balsa wood and skewer stick gliders, some flew surprisingly well. Others not so well.

The test launch before the main event. That recording of that video was entrusted to a student and comprises of just 3 seconds of shoes.

The main event had to be the model rocket launch. While not extremely educational, was certainly the highlight of the week. The rocket launched beautifully, and we heard the parachute deploy, but the sun was high, and bright and we couldn’t establish visual for several seconds. It was around that time that some wind picked up and by the time we saw the rocket floating down, it was going over the clubhouse building. We ran around the building, but couldn’t make it in time to see where it landed. That little rocket was never seen again.

Since then I have built my own rocket, with LED’s that blink for added retrievability.

This was the proposed itinerary:

  • Designing and building a Mars Rover – We’ll create a remote controlled vehicle that will allow us to explore wireless communications, movement using motors, and adding whatever the students come up with regarding what is necessary for an unmanned exploration vehicle.
  • Anti gravity device – We’ll create a miniature acoustic levitation device (this was unfortunately an unsuccessful experiment)
  • Paper Rockets – Demonstrating the fundamental laws behind rocket science by creating simple paper rockets and experimenting with different design alterations.
  • Water pump rockets – Furthering from the principals learned in the paper rockets.
  • Model Rocket launch – A real model rocket launch (to happen on the least windy of days)
  • Telescopes – We’ll build a telescope so earthlings can see what’s going on on Mars (not really, we can’t create such a powerful telescope, but it’s the thought that counts.
  • Introduction to aerofoils and aerodynamics – We’ll make glider planes that students can keep and should time allow for it, a remote control aeroplane.

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