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Lesson Title: Touchdown Challenge
May 11, 2012

Unit: Engineering - Challenges

Grade Levels: 7-9

Connection To Curriculum: Potential and Kinetic Energy, Acceleration Due to Gravity, Air Resistance and Measurement

Teacher Prep Time: 15-30 Minutes

Lesson Time Needed: 1 hour

Complexity Basic

Keywords: engineering challenge, scientific method, rockets, moon, Newton's laws, engineering design process, moon, Mars, energy


1 piece of stiff paper or cardboard [approximately 4 by 5 inches (10 by 13 cm)]
1 small paper or plastic cup
3 index cards [3 by 5 inches (8 by 13 cm)]
2 regular-size marshmallows
10 miniature marshmallows
3 rubber bands
8 plastic straws

Students will design and build a shock-absorbing system that will protect two "astronauts" when they land.

Students will follow the engineering design process to:
• Design and construct a shock-absorbing system out of paper, straws and miniature marshmallows.
• Construct a shock absorber to attach to a cardboard platform.
• Evaluate and improve their design based on testing results.

First page of Touchdown Challenge

Lesson Guide
Touchdown Challenge Lesson
[209KB PDF file]



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Lesson Activities and Sequence
The "Touchdown" activity is located in the On the Moon Educator Guide, which contains the following engineering activities:

  1. Introduce the challenge: Ask students why a spacecraft that can land gently is important for getting astronauts to and from the moon safely.
  2. Brainstorm and design: Students should be working in cooperative groups to develop a group design and using individual journals to record their decisions, design sketches, test results, etc.
  3. Build, test, evaluate and redesign: Test data, solutions, modifications, etc., should all be recorded in their journals individually.
  4. Discuss what happened: Ask the students to show each other their landers and talk about how they solved any problems that came up.
  5. Evaluation: Using the students' journals, assess their mastery of content, skills and the engineering design process.

Keywords: engineering challenge, scientific method, rockets, moon, Newton's laws, engineering design process, potential energy, kinetic energy, moon, Mars

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Physical Science
• Properties of Objects and Materials.
• Position and Motion of Objects.
• Motion and Forces.

Science and Technology
• Abilities of Technological Design.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, NCTM
Measurement and Data
• Represent and interpret data.

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