In this challenge, you'll design and build a lander that will protect two "astronauts" when they touch down on the Moon, Mars, or another world of your choosing.

Image showing the materials needed for the Astronaut Lander project


Watch the tutorial

Follow along with this video tutorial for ideas to create your astronaut lander. Scroll below for written step-by-step instructions with photos.

Watch en Español: Seleccione subtítulos en Español bajo el ícono de configuración.

Composite image showing the Apollo 11 command module on the Moon.

1. Brainstorm

Landing on the Moon and Mars is tricky. A lander headed to the Moon can go as fast as 24,816 miles (39,937 kilometers) per hour. Those on their way to Mars might go up to 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) per hour. To land gently, these spacecraft need to slow down before touching the surface! And if there are astronauts on board, the lander needs to keep them safe, too.

Just as engineers develop solutions for landing different kinds of vehicles on the Moon and Mars, you can follow the engineering design process to design and build your own shock-absorbing system out of simple materials. Then, improve your design based on the results of your test landings – and test it all with code!

First, consider how you will softly land your “astronauts” using the allowable materials.

  • What kind of shock absorber can you make from these materials to help soften a landing?
  • How will you make sure the lander doesn’t roll while falling through the air or tip over when it lands?

    About the image: In this composite image from 1969, astronaut Buzz Aldrin can be seen coming down a ladder from the mission's command module (or lander). Shortly after this series of images was taken, Buzz Aldrin became the second person to walk on the Moon. Image credit: NASA | › See more images from the Apollo 11 mission

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    Sketch of a lunar lander on graph paper with marshmallows, rubber bands and straws scattered around

    2. Design a shock-absorbing system

    Think about springs and cushions. The two regular marshmallows (your astronauts) must be inside the cup. Sketch your design. Note: The cup has to stay open – no lids!

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    Collage of images showing a person adding tape to a piece of cardboard, cutting a straw with scissors and holding marshmallows

    3. Build the lander

    Using your design as a guide, assemble your lander.

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    Sketch of a lunar lander on graph paper with red writing that reads, "NEW v. 2"

    4. Test, evaluate and redesign

    Drop your lander from a height of one foot (30 cm). If the "astronauts" bounce out or the lander tips over, figure out ways to improve your design. Study any problems and redesign. Then test again to see if your new design solved the problem.

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    Kids dropping their lunar landers

    5. Take it higher

    Drop your lander from progressively higher heights (two feet, three feet, etc.). As problems arise, study them and redesign. Then, test again.

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    Menu of different LED light patterns, a code block to make an X pattern appear when the force is 8g, and a microdevice displaying an X pattern.

    6. Test your landing with code

    For an added challenge, you can use programmable microdevices to determine whether your landing was hard or soft by setting a threshold with an accelerometer: Using a device such as a microbit, you can code simple parameters based on the deceleration of the lander.

    1. First try using the on shake function in input and changing it to 8g. This means whatever code you put inside this function will be triggered if the deceleration is greater than eight times the gravity on Earth. Inside the input function, place a show leds block, and draw a picture of what lights should display when the hard landing is triggered.
    2. Next to this, place the on button input and set it to A+B. Place a clear screen block inside. This will allow the experiment to be cleared and repeated across all trials.
    3. With the code downloaded to your device, add a battery pack. Secure the device and battery pack to the lander to ensure they stay connected.
    4. As you refine your lander, you can increase the challenge by reducing the failure trigger from 8g to 5g or 3g to ensure a safe and soft landing.

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