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.

In this challenge, use what you know and what you can investigate about gravity, motion, forces and a target of your choosing (the Moon, Mars or beyond!) to design and build a lander that will protect two "astronauts" when they touch down. Just as engineers had to develop solutions for landing different kinds of vehicles on the Moon and Mars, you will follow the engineering design process to design and build a shock-absorbing system out of simple materials; and improve your design based on the results of your test landings.

Watch the Tutorial

See below for materials and step-by-step instructions. For more video tutorials and activities like this one, visit Learning Space.

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

In this episode of Learning Space, we'll be showing you how to use simple materials at home to design and build a lander that will protect two "astronauts" when they touch down. | Watch on YouTube

Image showing the materials needed for the Astronaut Lander project


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

1. Brainstorm

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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Scissors, cups, a pencil and other materials scattered on the ground. A text overlay reads #VirtualMoonshot

Share it!

Share your design with NASA! Snap a picture or video of your spacecraft and post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VirtualMoonshot. Be sure to get your parents' or guardians' permission before sharing your snaps online – or ask if they can post it for you.

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