Rockets by Size
Students cut out, color and sequence paper rockets from tallest to shortest -- and shortest to tallest -- in a simple mathematics lesson on measurement.
- Read the information on the International Space Station and rockets in the "Background" section below. Be prepared to share the information on different types of rockets with students.
- Gather pictures of different types of rockets.
- Print rocket sequence sheets (one per student) and rocket drawings.
- Cut out and color one rocket sequence sheet to use as an example: Tip: Laminate the cut-outs so you can reuse them in future lessons.
- Find objects in the room to put in order by height.
The International Space Station (ISS) represents the most complex international scientific endeavor in history. It is also the most ambitious construction project ever undertaken in space. Sixteen international partners, including the United States, are working together, sharing resources and expertise, to build this orbiting research facility. International partners include Canada, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the eleven nations of the European Space Agency. In the United States, the organization responsible for building the ISS is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Constructing the ISS was a complex and challenging task. The station is 108.5 meters wide and 73 meters long. It is approximately the size of two football fields placed side by side. The completed station weighs approximately 419,455 kilograms. There are no launch vehicles or rockets capable of carrying an object of this size into space at one time.
Individual components or pieces make up the space station. The components come in all shapes and sizes. Different nations build different components of the ISS. Each piece has a special purpose. Components are laboratories, living areas, and equipment and storage areas. Important parts of the space station are the large, shiny solar arrays. These solar arrays provide power to the space station. The living and working areas on board the space station will be about the size of three average American homes. Giant solar arrays provide electricity for the space station. The electricity generated could power about 10 average American homes. Water is recycled on the space station. While astronauts float in the microgravity environment, they find the station to be at “shirt sleeve” temperatures. Due to its size, the ISS had to go to space in pieces. Rockets carried these pieces to space. Traveling at 28,163 kilometers per hour and circling the Earth every 90 minutes, humans had to put these components together at an average distance of approximately 407 kilometers above the Earth to build the station.
Construction of the Space Station began in 1998. In 2000, the first international crew of three people went to live and work on board the station. Habitation of the space station marked the resumption of a long-term human presence in space. Since that time, more than 200 people from 15 countries have visited.The ISS is a science laboratory in space. The space station allows research in a microgravity environment. Research in biology, chemistry, physics, ecology and medicine will result in benefits for people on Earth. Crew members spend about 35 hours each week conducting research in many disciplines to advance scientific knowledge in Earth, space, physical, and biological sciences for the benefit of people living on our home planet. The ISS will eventually be home to as many as seven people. Crews, who live and work on the station for four to six months, must be ferried back and forth to Earth. Rockets are needed to carry both cargo and people. For more information and activities on the space station, check the educational materials at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html.
Space Launch System
NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, is a rocket that will allow for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. When complete, SLS will be the only rocket capable of sending an Orion crew capsule – the exploration vehicle that will hold the crew – and cargo to the Moon with a single launch. SLS may also create new possibilities for robotic scientific missions to places like the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.
American and Russian launch vehicles, or rockets, delivered individual ISS components to space. These vehicles also ferried crews, supplies, hardware, and station components from Earth to the station. NASA used a reusable space transportation system (STS), the space shuttle, to transport station components, hardware, supplies and personnel to and from the ISS.
The space shuttle consists of several parts. One of the parts is the orbiter. The crew lived and worked in the orbiter. There may have been as many as seven people on a crew. The orbiter was the only part of the space shuttle that orbited the Earth. The orbiter needed special rockets to reach Earth orbit. Two solid rocket boosters attached to the external tank. The external tank attached to the orbiter and supplied fuel to the three main rocket engines at the aft end of the orbiter.
The payload bay of the orbiter stored new components bound for the space station. A docking port in the payload bay allowed the orbiter to join, or dock, with the ISS. After docking, a robotic arm lifted a new piece or module out of the payload bay and attached it to the station. Astronauts then performed spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), to help attach new components to the ISS.
Two different Russian rockets also take people, supplies, and parts to the ISS. The Proton rocket sends pieces of the space station to space. A Proton rocket launched the first ISS component, the Russian-built Zarya control module.
A smaller Russian rocket, the Soyuz, takes crews and cargo to and from the station. The crew, usually three people, travels in a small Soyuz capsule launched on a Soyuz rocket. When it arrives at the station, the capsule docks to a port on a Russian-built component. In addition, a Soyuz rocket launches a Progress spacecraft. The Progress does not carry people; it carries supplies, or cargo, to and from the station. The Progress also docks to a port on a Russian-built part of the ISS. In the future, a variety of new vehicles will visit the station to ferry crews and supplies.
Building the ISS took many years. Its construction required more than 40 launches of the space shuttle, Proton, and Soyuz rockets. Assembling more than 100 space station components required the use of robot technology and many hours of spacewalks by astronauts. Now complete, scientific research will continue on the station for many years. For more information on the International Space Station and the space shuttle, visit
Rocket HistoryAmerican and Russian rockets carried the parts and the crews needed to construct the ISS in space. The space shuttle and the Proton and Soyuz rockets were all necessary for its construction. These modern rockets are the result of centuries of experimentation by people around the world.
Although it is not clear when true rockets were first developed, historical records indicate that the Chinese developed simple rockets as early as the 13th century. They invented a form of gun powder to create fireworks for special events. Eventually, the Chinese put gunpowder in a bamboo tube. When lit, this gunpowder-filled tube launched, creating a simple rocket.
More than 300 years ago, in the 17th century, scientists began to study rockets. Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was a scientist who tried to explain how rockets work. He stated three scientific principles, called Newton’s Laws of Motion, which describe the motion of objects, either on Earth or in space. To successfully build rockets, scientists have to understand these laws.
Early in the 20th century, one of the scientists who conducted rocket experiments was an American named Robert Goddard (1882-1945). People call Goddard “the father of modern rocketry.” His research helped give humans the ability to send rockets to space. As a result of the research of Newton and Goddard, modern rocket scientists are able to design and build sophisticated rockets like the space shuttle, the Proton, and the Soyuz.
Modern rockets took the first humans to space and then to the moon. Rockets launch satellites into orbit around the Earth and send unmanned spacecraft to explore the universe. Sounding rockets are used for scientific research in Earth's atmosphere. Rockets are necessary to transport crews and supplies to the International Space Station.
- Show students pictures and drawings of rockets and ask them to compare and contrast the rockets. Remind students that rockets come in different sizes.
- People also come in different sizes. Have five students in the room stand up and come forward. Tell the class that the selected students should line up in order from shortest to tallest. Let the class choose how to place the students in the correct order. Remember to model sequencing from left to right. Have the class check the order to see if it is correct. Remind them to use comparison words, such as shorter, shortest, taller, and tallest.
- Tell the class that the students now must line up from tallest to shortest. Repeat the procedure.
- Choose objects in the room and put them in order by height.
- Show students the rocket sequence sheet. Explain that these rockets must be placed in the correct order. Demonstrate how to sequence the rockets from shortest to tallest then tallest to shortest using the examples you have prepared.
- Remind students that it is important that the rockets share a common base to ensure they are in the right order. Do a demonstration to show that placement of rockets on the same line or base is important. A line on the chalkboard or the edge of a piece of paper will help students see the importance of a common base.
- Distribute the rocket sequence sheet and a sheet of construction paper to students. Have students color and cut out the individual rockets.
- Let students practice sequencing the rockets from shortest to tallest and tallest to shortest. Suggest that they use the edge of the paper as a baseline for the rockets. Monitor their work. Check that they sequence from left to right and that they use a common base for their rockets. If students have difficulty sequencing from left to right, place a mark on the left side of the paper to remind them where to start.
- After students have practiced correctly sequencing the rockets, let them glue the rockets to the construction paper in order from shortest to tallest.
- Observe students as they sequence the rockets
- Have students draw the rockets in order in a journal or on a sheet of paper. Remind them to use a baseline and to sequence from left to right. Have students describe (in writing or orally) the drawing using comparison words -- for example, the green rocket is the shortest.
- Use the rockets on the sequence sheet to play a game using position and comparison words. The educator directs students to place a selected rocket in a certain position on the table or on their body. For example: Put the tallest rocket under your chin. Put the shortest rocket over your head. Put the tallest rocket behind your back.
- Ask students to take one rocket from the sequence sheet at a time and find an object in the room the same height as the rocket. Begin with the shortest rocket. Develop a graph to record the objects they find. Use a long piece of paper and draw lines, dividing it into five sections. Glue a rocket pattern in each section. Make sure the patterns are in order, shortest to tallest. Have students tell what objects they found that were the same height as their rocket. Write the names of objects in the correct column. Compare and contrast the objects they found. Repeat the procedure until students have found objects the same height as each rocket.
- Use a rocket from the sequence sheet for students to practice using the words, taller and shorter. Have students select a rocket and find an object in the room that is taller than the rocket. Repeat and find an object shorter than the same rocket. Repeat the procedure using differentsize rockets.
- Use a rocket from the sequence sheet as a nonstandard measurement tool. Select a rocket to measure objects or people in the room. For example: The table is 7 rockets long. The cabinet is 5 rockets high. Remind students to practice saying the unit of measurement. Encourage students to develop a method to collect this data. In a journal or on a sheet of paper, students write the word or draw a picture of the object and record the measurement. Repeat the procedure using different size rockets.
- Challenge two students to measure the same object with two different size rockets. Have them share their measurements with the class. For example: Jill measured the table, and it was 6 rockets long. Sam measured the table, and it was 10 rockets long. Ask the class if one of the students measured incorrectly. Ask the students to measure again using the same rocket patterns. The answers will be the same. Ask the class to figure out why there are different answers. The measuring tools were different lengths. One was shorter than the other. Explain that it is always important to use a consistent unit of measurement.