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Lesson Title: Thermal Protection Systems Challenge
July 11, 2012

Unit: Engineering - Challenges

Grade Levels: 7-9

Connection To Curriculum: Science, Mathematics, Technology and Engineering

Teacher Prep Time: 4-8 hours

Lesson Time Needed: Seven 45-Minute Sessions

Complexity Advanced

Keywords: engineering challenge, scientific method, heat transfer, transfer of energy, engineering design process, space shuttle, tiles, conductor, insulator, radiation, ablative shield


A propane torch
Copper, aluminum or brass screening
Aluminum foil
Wooden dowels
Hot melt glue pot or glue gun and glue
Brass machine screws, nuts and washers
Poster paper
Safety goggles
Ring stand and clamps
Fire extinguisher

This activity challenges students to solve a real-world problem that is part of the space program while learning about heat and heat transfer.

Students will:
• Accurately measure the drop height and compute the average height.
• Observe a design before testing and pick out the "key features."
• Observe a model during and after testing and document precisely what happens to the model.
• Record observations and organize data so that they can be exchanged with others and referred to later.
• Apply the design process to a problem.

First page of Thermal Protection Systems Challenge

Lesson Guide
Thermal Protection Systems Challenge Lesson
[125KB PDF file]



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Lesson Activities and Sequence
Educator Guide
› Engineering Design Challenges: Thermal Protection Systems

  1. Thermal Protection Systems - Session 1
    Introducing the Challenge and Getting Started: Overview of NASA's Thermal Protection Systems, review safety procedures, demonstrate the test assembly with basic rocket models without TPS to establish the baseline average protection time for system (glue) failure, explain data recording sheets, journals and culminating activity.
  2. Thermal Protection Systems - Session 2
    Design 1: Review safety issues found in the guide, introduce the materials and design, build, test, record and share solutions.
  3. Thermal Protection Systems - Session 3 and 4
    Designs 2, 3, 4 and 5; repeat cycle.
  4. Thermal Protection Systems - Session 5
    Construct a storyboard or poster of final design testing results, sketches, steps throughout development and journals.
  5. Thermal Protection Systems - Session 6
    Student presentations linking design strategies and observations to science concepts.

Keywords: engineering challenge, scientific method, heat transfer, transfer of energy, engineering design process, space shuttle, tiles, conductor, insulator, radiation, ablative shield

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Understanding of scientific concepts.
• Understanding of the nature of science.
• Skills necessary to become independent inquirers about the natural world.
• The dispositions to use the skills, abilities and attitudes associated with science.

Physical Science
• Transfer of energy.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, NCTM
• Solve real-life and mathematical problems involving angle measure, area, surface area and volume.

ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students, ISTE
Creativity and Innovation
• Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes.
• Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
• Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
• Identify trends and forecast possibilities.

Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making
• Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
• Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
• Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
• Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.


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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator