Egghead space race

27th January 2006 at 00:00
When Keighley College's STAR (Science, Technology and Aeronautics Regional) Centre asked us to take part in a competition with a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida as the prize I jumped at the chance. Participants had to design a lander that could safely transport a raw egg to the surface of Mars, and give a presentation on why they wished to undertake astronaut training.

The six keenest students were 13 and 14-year-old boys, some of whom are in my science class and also in the badminton club I run. We did the project as an after-school science club. It involved science, DT, and ICT, and we had advice from all those faculties. One challenge was how to ensure the lander and its fragile cargo landed upright on Mars. They tested pine cones (which always land the same way up) and came up with a "seed pod"

idea - much like an egg itself.

They also investigated ways of absorbing impact, experimenting with powder, nets and rice paper to break the lander's fall. They finally came up with a shock-absorbent type of polystyrene styrofoam for inside the pod, with space around the passenger egg to further absorb the shock. Having produced the forma (mold) they vacuum-formed the pod from expanded PVC.

The team's internet research into pods, and their review of the failure of last year's Beagle Mars landing, helped with the PowerPoint presentation and they performed a mini-play on why they wanted to train as astronauts.

They said they would like to be part of the International Space Station, and looked at the various jobs they wanted to undertake. One student wanted to be the commander and was interested in docking procedures; another aimed to be a weatherman and another to investigate how to produce fizzy cola in space - not easy as bubbles would be a problem.

The project had enormous benefits in encouraging teamwork and self-assessment. The high spot, however, was when we won - two boys, not normally given to tears, cried with joy.

Sue Foster Science teacher, Salt Grammar School, Bradford

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