Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.

Teachers' Guide

Activity 1.1.B: Rockets and Payloads


  • Students will investigate and predict the effect of payload on the amount of energy needed to lift a rocket vertically (thereby working with Newton's Second Law of Motion).

    Materials: for each Rocket Science Team of 3 or 4 students

  • 2-3 large, long balloons
  • balloon pump (available in party stores)
  • fishing line
  • paper clips (or pennies)
  • 1 paper cup
  • straws (milk shake size)
  • tape
  • clothes pins
  • metric scale
  • Activity 1.1.B Student Worksheet (one for each student)
  • Mars Mission Logbooks


    Have Rocket Science Teams brainstorm what equipment they would place on MGS or MPF spacecraft. Would there be any limitations to the "payload"? (Hopefully, students will suggest that payload weight was a serious constraint to the equipment that could be carried by MGS and MPF to Mars.)


    1. Place large sign with Newton's Second Law of Motion on chalkboard and review the formula (force = mass times acceleration). Have students express this in more colloquial terms, until you are sure all understand the principle involved. Ask: Using the same amount of pushing force, which object could you get to accelerate faster, a Mack truck or a toy wagon? Why? (If F is equal and you have bigger M, you have to have a smaller A to keep the equation balanced.)

    2. Distribute materials and Student Worksheets. Review procedure with students and answer any questions.

    3. Allow Rocket Science Teams sufficient time to complete investigation and record data.

    4. Call all the groups together and have them post the results of each of their trials on a data table on the chalkboard. Draw group conclusions.

    Note: In this experiment students first witness action-reaction. Then they vary the amount of M between the first phase and second phases of the experiments, and should see a corresponding increase in the amount of force required. Acceleration is a variable not addressed, but this should be discussed, along with the effects of not holding the string vertically which adds drag from friction, lowers acceleration and changes results, etc.
    5. Have teams share the design principles which made their launches successful and then develop and contribute ideas they think could be used to create an even more successful "heavy-lift" launcher.


    Go on-line and find information giving the specific course that MPF and/or MGS will follow to travel to Mars. How many trajectory changes will be necessary? How is the spacecraft controlled? Go on-line, read Field Journals and Biographies to find out what course to follow to become a rocket scientist. Explain (in writing or with illustrations) a spacecraft launch, from blast-off through entry into orbit, using Newton's Laws of Motion. Make sure your explanation could be understood by a younger brother or sister!

    Graph data from the rocket experiments.

    Language Arts: Write a first-person account of a rocket launch as if you were Sir Isaac Newton.

    Read a biography of one of the following scientists associated with rocketry: Robert Goddard, Johann Schmidlap, Isaac Newton, Wan-Hu, William Congreve, William Hale, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Hermann Oberth. Report this person's contributions to your class.

    Research Robert Goddard. Worcester, Massachusetts, will be an uplink site for the first broadcast on November 19, 1996.

    Research why launches are held at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

    Research the development of rockets from the earliest to the most current designs. Add your own design! Present your report using computer presentation software (HyperCard, HyperStudio, etc.)

    Design your own rocket and translate into two-dimensional drawing or three-dimensional model.

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