After learning about the solar system this fall and designing spacesuits that can withstand the temperature variations of space travel, sixth-grade scientists have been designing, constructing, and building their own Mars landers and rovers. The astronaut in this challenge is an eggstronaut, and the goal is to construct a lander that will enable the egg to survive the impact and a rover that can travel the greatest distance upon reaching the red planet. The project culminated with students testing their landers and rovers in Harlow Gymnasium to see if they could safely land at a designated landing site and move the payload with their rover.
To prepare for their mission, the sixth graders learned about some of the strategies NASA engineers employ to protect rocket payloads, which can include humans as well as equipment and supplies. Students learned about reducing impact velocity, using restraints, cushioning, and crumple zones. They also learned about the history of some NASA payload missions, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. Sixth grade science teacher Adel Collins split her students into groups, and within each team, there were lander and rover design groups. Each team could purchase building supplies, including cardboard, plastic bags, duct tape, straws, tissue paper, and water bottles, using credit points, ensuring that each group stayed within the same budget and was thoughtful about using materials.
Teams sketched initial prototypes for a design, created a budget for materials, and finalized their design plan before building. To test their designs, students dropped their landers from the second floor of Harlow Gymnasium onto a landing site of 1 square meter on the gym floor below. Students gathered around the landing site, counting down and cheering as each lander was released. While many groups had trouble hitting the designated landing site, they were largely successful in protecting their eggstronaut, with passengers like Dr. Scramble, Arnold SchwarzenEGGer, and Neil EGGstrong emerging intact. The rovers were removed from the lander and tested on a ramp to see how far they could travel.
After testing, students reflected on their work, analyzing the best features of their design and the scientific concepts that influenced it. They also completed a mission debrief where they described the specific challenges of this mission, their successes, and what they would change on a future mission.