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Astronauts, Rockets, and Space Ships Lesson

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.


This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Astronomy. Make rockets, try out astronaut tasks, make and eat a spacecraft, and more in this fun lesson on space exploration! My lessons are geared toward 3rd - 4th grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, or co-op!




*If anyone has kitchen gloves, work gloves, and/or nuts and bolts, please bring them for activity #7. The more we have, the more children can participate at the same time.*

1) Stretch. Pray.

2) Read & discuss Hebrews 11:3 and Psalm 19:1.

3) Begin making Edible Cassini Spacecraft: Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Place ice cream cones individually in muffin tins. Fill the ice cream cones 2/3 full of cake mix. (We had enough extra batter to make 6 regular cupcakes as well.) Bake according to the cake mix instructions, just as for a cupcake.

(Cassini-Huygens is robotic spacecraft mission currently studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites until 2017. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer solar system.)

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 24 ice cream cones with a flat bottom and a cup-like top, 1 box cake mix, eggs & oil for cake mix, muffin tins

Astronauts in Outer Space

4) Read a book on astronauts: Floating in Space by Franklyn M. Branley.

5) Show pictures from To Space and Back by Sally Ride. (If you are not limited by time, reading a picture book biography on her would also be good.)

Astronaut ice cream

Astronaut ice cream

6) (Optional) Taste astronaut food

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 1 package of astronaut ice cream

Astronaut gloves

Astronaut gloves

Astronaut Gloves

7) Try some astronaut gloves: Let each child wear large, leather work gloves & try to pick up a penny and place it in a cup and then put together a nut & bolt. To make it more realistic, you can plug up a sink and have them do this underwater. (We divided the group up into 4 groups and let each group take turns with the gloves.) This activity idea came from Cosmic Science by Jim Wiese.

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 3 pairs leather work gloves ($3 each at Wal-Mart), 2 packages of 3 sets of nuts and bolts ($.97 each at Wal-Mart), 12 pennies, and 12 small cups or other containers

Robot arm model

Robot arm model

Robot Arms

8) Read some of International Space Station by Franklyn M. Branley.

9) Make robot arm (Canandarm): Ahead of time punch a hole at both ends of the cardboard strips about 1 inch in at each side. I did this using a nail. Also, loop one end of the hanger closed. I used pliers. I used wire clippers to cut the wire hangers in half.

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Give each child 3 strips of cardboard. Have them us the two brads to connect the 3 pieces together. Have them push the straight end of the hanger through a hole at one of the ends. On the looped part of the hanger, attach a paperclip that has been bent to look like a hook. This is a simple machine called a lever. Place another paperclip into the play-dough and have children try to use their robot arm to pick up the paperclip/dough item. Have them use their robot arm while wearing their astronaut/work gloves. This activity came from Cosmic Science by Jim Wiese.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: PER CHILD: 3 strips of cardboard (I used cereal boxes) approximately 11"x1.25", 2 brads, 1/2 wire coat hanger, 2 paperclips, and 1 small ball of play-doh or clay

Edible Cassini Spacecraft

Edible Cassini Spacecraft

Edible Cassini Spacecraft

10) Decorate your edible Cassini Spacecraft:

a. Place a layer of frosting on top of the "cake."

b. Fold the licorice in half and poke the ends into the cake. The licorice should make an inverted V sticking out of the cake. This represents the support structure on the interior of Cassini's high-gain antenna dish.

c. Using frosting as glue, place two disk candies around the inside of the top of the ice cream cone. If you'd like, you can leave the metallic wrapping on the candy to make it look more realistic, but we didn't. We used unwrapped Werther's Originals. These represent the Sun sensors that tell the spacecraft where the Sun is.

d. Using a plastic knife, stab a hole in the ice cream cone right under the cake "antenna." Insert the Kit Kat into the cone. Using frosting as glue, place a marshmallow on the end of the Kit Kat. This represents the magnetometer boom.

e. Holding the cone with the chocolate wafer pointing to the right, take the candy disk (we used a wrapped Hershey's kiss) and attach it to the side of the cone that is facing you. Use frosting as glue. This represents the Huygens probe.

TEACHER/PARENT 1: YOU WILL NEED: 12 napkins, cake frosting, 12 Kit Kat sticks, 36 candy disks (like butterscotch disks or Werther's Originals), 24 M&M's, 12 small pieces of licorice, 12 small marshmallows, & 12 plastic knives

Centrifugal Force

Centrifugal Force

Apollo 11 & Centrifugal Force

11) Read Moonshot by Brian Floca

12) Quickly discuss Newton's 3 Laws. Newton's 1st Law vs. Centrifugal force: Give each child an empty bottle without a lid and a marble and ask them to turn the bottle over without allowing the marble to drop out and not placing anything at the open end of the bottle. Let them experiment. If no one figures out, show them how to do it. Turn the bottle upside down and quickly twirl it around. Centrifugal force will push the marble outward and circling around. Why this is important: when a space shuttle or satellite is shot into space, according to Newton's first law, it should just keep going. It doesn't, though, because the earth is spinning like the bottle and gravity pulls the satellite or shuttle to spin around the Earth like the marble. (An alternate way to show this is to swing a ball or an eraser that's been tied to a string around and around in a circle.)

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 12 plastic bottles (like empty water bottles) & 12 marbles

Our Favorite Picture Books on Apollo 11

Launch a "Rocket" from a Spinning "Planet"

Launch a "Rocket" from a Spinning "Planet"

Launch a Rocket from a Spinning Planet

13) (If you have extra time) Launch a "Rocket" from a Spinning "Planet" by letting children get on a merry-go-round playground toy OR a spinning chair, spinning them around, and trying to aim balls for a bucket. Check out this link lesson idea at this link. (Note: I did not do this during co-op. I took my children to the park later that day.)

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: a bucket & assorted balls




14 ) Quickly talk about the development of rockets being the step needed to get astronauts into outer space. (Optional) I used blocks to demonstrate how the Saturn V rockets worked by dropping one after the other. Then I used 3 cylinder blocks next to a paper model of a space shuttle to show how these work. You can find lots of free paper models including one of the Columbia space shuttle at this link. I used the Space Ship Glider.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: cylinder-shaped blocks and toy or paper model space shuttle and rocket

Balloon Rockets

Balloon Rockets

Balloon Rockets

15) Demonstrate Newton's 3rd Law: make & shoot off balloon rockets. Divide children into 3 groups. Give each group a sting (5 feet), tape, a long balloon, and a straw. 2 children will hold the string. Place the straw on the string at one end. Blow up but do not tie the balloon. Pinch the end to keep it from losing its air. Tape it to the straw and then release the air. Let them each take a turn releasing the balloon. Let all 3 groups release their balloon at the same time to have a race. As the air rushes out of the balloon, it creates a forward motion called thrust. Thrust is a pushing force created by energy. Thrust comes from the energy of the balloon forcing the air out. In a real rocket, thrust is created by the force of burning rocket fuel as it blasts from the rockets engine - as the engines blast down, the rocket goes up breaking away from Earth's gravity.

TEACHER/PARENT 3: YOU WILL NEED: 3 pieces of string (5 feet each), 12 long balloons (which are easier to tape - or you can use any type of balloon), and 3 straws

Bubble-Powered Rockets

Bubble-Powered Rockets

Bubble-Powered Rockets

16) (If you have extra time) Allow children to decorate and put on paper fins and nosecones to plastic 35-mm film canister rockets. (We did not find that adding fins or nosecones made any difference in how these rockets took off. This just makes them look nicer.) Decide how to cut your paper. You may cut it the short way or the long way to make the body of the rocket. There is no one right way to make a paper rocket. Try a long, skinny rocket or a short, fat rocket. Try a sharp nosecone or a blunt nosecone. Try it with fins or without fins. Cut out all the pieces for your rocket. Wrap and tape a tube of paper around the film canister. Hint: Tape the canister to the end of the paper before you start wrapping. Important! Place the lid end of the canister down. Tape fins to your rocket body, if you want. Roll the circle (with a wedge cut out) into a cone and tape it to the rocket's top.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: Markers, paper, scissors, and tape.

17) Make & shoot off Bubble-Powered Rockets. (Do this outside!)

-Just like with real rockets, the less your rocket weighs and the less air resistance (drag) it has, the higher it will go. Your rockets will shoot off more rapidly if you put an entire Alka-Seltzer tablet in it. It won't shoot up as high though.

Turn the rocket upside down and remove the canister's lid. Fill the canister one-third full of water. Now work quickly on the next steps! Drop one-half of an effervescing antacid tablet into the canister. Snap the lid on tight. Stand back and wait. Your rocket will blast off. LEt them shoot off their rockets a few times.

Explanation: When the fizzy tablet is placed in water, many little bubbles of gas escape. The bubbles go up, instead of down, because they weigh less than water. When the bubbles get to the surface of the water, they break open. All that gas that has escaped from the bubbles pushes on the sides of the canister. Now when you blow up a balloon, the air makes the balloon stretch bigger and bigger. But the little film canister doesn't stretch and all this gas has to go somewhere! Eventually, something has to give! So the canister pops its top (which is really its bottom, since it's upside down). All the water and gas rush down and out, pushing the canister up and up, along with the rocket attached to it. Real rockets work kind of the same way. But instead of using tablets that fizz in water, they use rocket fuel.

TEACHER/PARENT 4: YOU WILL NEED: 24 Effervescing (fizzing) antacid tablets (like Alka-Seltzer) & 12 plastic 35-mm film canisters (We got ours free from the photo departments at Wal-Mart and Walgreens.)

Edible Cassini Spacecraft

Edible Cassini Spacecraft

Review, Songs, & Snack

18) Five minute review of what we learned.

19) Review songs in preparation for Presentation Night: The Planets Go Spinning, Day, Night, & Year, and C-O-M-E-T.

20) (If you have extra time) Eat edible Cassini Spacecrafts

TEACHER/PARENT 2: YOU WILL NEED: 12 cups for water & 12 sandwich baggies for taking these home

Animal Astronauts - Read about the animals who paved the way for human flight into space.

Also look for "Laika: The 1st Dog in Space" (Famous Firsts: Animals Making History (Graphic Planet)) by Joeming Dunn, "Laika" by Nick Abadzis, and "First In Space" by James Vining.

Making planet pizzas in Part 1: Solar System Lesson

Making planet pizzas in Part 1: Solar System Lesson

Make planet pizzas as you study planets, form the lunar phases using Oreo cookies as you study the moon, study and paint Van Gogh's "Starry Night " as you study stars, build and blast off rockets as you study space exploration, make presentations on individual planets, and more during this 4 part hands-on unit study on the solar system.

  1. Solar System Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Astronomy. Make planet pizzas, take a planet walk, and more in this exciting lesson on our fascinating solar system!
  2. The Sun and the Moon Lesson - This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Astronomy. Form the lunar phases using Oreo cookies, drop balls in flour to make a crater-filled lunar surface, recreate Galileo's famous gravity experiment, and more!
  3. Comets, Asteroids, Meteors, Stars, & Constellations - This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Astronomy. Make a comet, study and paint Van Gogh's "Starry Night," decorate a cookie to learn the parts of the sun, form asteroids out of mashed potatoes, assemble constellations using marshmallows, and more!
  4. Astronauts, Rockets, and Space Ships Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Astronomy. Make rockets, try out astronaut tasks, make and eat a spacecraft, and more in this fun lesson on space exploration!
  5. Astronomy Presentations and Field Trip Ideas - This is the culminating activity we did after a 4 part hands-on unit on astronomy. We held a star-gazing party and dinner. The children each presented on an assigned planet and they sang the astronomy songs we've been learning during our unit. Also included are the field trips we took during this unit.

Would you like to be an astronaut?

Good Video Clip: Life of an Astronaut - Jerry Carr - *Also look for Bill Nye The Science Guy & Space Exploration!*

Konos Volume I

Konos Volume I

Konos Curriculum

Would you like to teach this way every day?

Konos Curriculum

I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!

Konos Home School Mentor

If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!

Which Rocket or Shuttle Mission Would You Have Liked to Have Joined? - Or just leave me a note. I love getting feedback from you!

Shannon (author) from Florida on September 20, 2012:

@KimGiancaterino: Oh, that would be so neat to watch! I loved getting to see all my friends' photos of it going over Austin.

KimGiancaterino on September 20, 2012:

I'm so excited to see the Endeavour fly over Los Angeles tomorrow!

lasertek lm on May 16, 2011:

great looking lens. love your projects!

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