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Liftoff to Learning: Toys in Space 2

 Toys in Space 2 Experiments  contents

Rat Stuff- Susan Helms

Wind up the toy and let it jump out of your hand. How high did it jump?

STS-54 Data: Rat Stuff flipped successfully out of Astronaut Helms' hand but did not return. When Rat Stuff was taped to a notebook, his kicking feet had no effect on the heavier book. Rat Stuff also flew on the Shuttle in 1985. Compare the actions of Rat Stuff in the two videotapes. In the 1985 flight, Rat Stuff was held with a small amount of Velcro. No Velcro was used in the 1993 flight
 illustration of wind-up toy

Science/Math Link: Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion (What was the shape of the mouse's trajectory away from Helms' hand?)

Spring Jumper - John Casper

See what happens when you compress the Spring Jumper and release it on different surfaces. Push your Spring Jumper together and set the jumper on a hard flat level table, on a soft flat carpeted floor, on a very soft level pillow, and on your hand. When the spring releases, the jumper presses down on the surface below it. Which surface pushes back harder on the jumper? Which surface absorbs more of the jumper's push? Does the jumper always go the same direction? If not, can you explain why it changes direction?
 illustration of spring jumper toy

STS-54 Data: When the spring was released by the suction cup, the jumper jumped out of Commander Casper's hand. The jumper traveled in a straight line -- faster than the mouse. It could be deployed with its stand or its head touching Astronaut Casper's hand.

Science/Math Link: Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion

Swimming Frog, Fish,and Submarine
Susan Helms and John Casper

Activities: Test the swimming actions of each toy in a tub of water and in the air by suspending it with a string and observing its actions. Which toy works the best? How much air is pushed back by the submarine's propeller? Enlarge the blades by taping paper to them and observe the air flow again. Does the propeller's rotation speed change?

 illustration of swimming toy

STS-54 Data: The frog did a poor job of swimming in air. The fish swam better than the frog, and its swimming was greatly improved when its tail fin was enlarged. The submarine swam the best and was even faster when its propeller blades were enlarged. When the propeller fumed in one direction, the submarine turned in the other direction, which is the Conservation of Angular Momentum.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Third Law of Motion
Conservation of Angular Momentum

Flapping Bird - John Casper

Wind up the bird between 25-50 turns. Hold onto the bird and release the wing. Watch how the bird's wings move and how they push the air. Imagine the bird flying without any force to hold it down. Throw the bird forward without winding up the rubber band. Notice how it soars. Which flying technique will work best in space?
 illustration of flapping bird toy

STS-54 Data: When the rubber band inside the bird was wound up and the bird released, the bird's flapping wings caused it to do flip after flip after flip around the cabin. When the bird was not wound up, it would soar like a paper airplane. During the orbital tests of the bird, the rear of the bird's wing came lose from its body. To most accurately compare Earth and space tests of this toy, leave the rear of the bird's wing unattached.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Third Law of Motion, Bernoulli's Principle

Maple Seed - John Casper

If you have access to actual maple seeds, collect enough for every student to experiment with one. If not, construct a simple "maple seed" from paper and a paper clip. Transfer this pattern to a piece of paper and add a paper clip where indicated. You may have to adjust the position of the paper clip to get the seeds to spin or use a smaller paper clip. Experiment with other seed shapes.
 illustration of maple seed with paper clip attached

STS-54 Data: Raise the maple seed as high as you can above the floor. Drop it and observe what happens. Hold the maple seed by the wing and throw it across the room. What happens? Hold the seed by the heavy end and again throw it. What happens? Note: The paper maple seed flown on STS-54 was patterned after an origami design. It is a difficult design for children to reproduce and the plans above have been substituted.

The paper maple seed works just like a real single-blade maple seed on Earth. In space, when the seed was thrown fast, it traveled like an arrow, seed first, without twisting. When the seed was thrown slowly, it would spin around, slowly circling like the real maple seed does as it floats to the ground on Earth.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Second and Third Laws of Motion

Paper Boomerang - John Casper

Activities: Use the pattern on the picture below to cut out paper boomerangs from heavy stock paper, such as used in file folders. Hold the boomerang by one wing and toss it through the air. Spin the boomerang as you release it. Try to catch it. What happens when the wings are slightly bent?

 illustration of paper boomerang

STS-54 Data: When thrown slowly with a vertical release, the 4-bladed cardstock boomerang traveled in a straight line while spinning. (At the end of the throw, the boomerang's flight was affected by air flow from an air conditioner duct.) Commander Casper was able to make the boomerang curve by throwing it horizontally; however it always crashed into a wall before returning. The boomerang needs a larger area in space for an effective demonstration.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Second and Third Laws of Motion

pattern for paper boomerang

Balloon Helicopter- Don McMonagle

Activities: Blow up the balloon and attach it to the helicopter blades. Hold onto the neck of the balloon and release the air. Feel how the air travels through the wings. Predict what will happen when the helicopter is released. Blow up the balloon and attach it to the helicopter blades. Toss the helicopter upward as you release the balloon. What makes the wings turn? What makes the helicopter rise? Also estimate the distance from where you released the helicopter to the ceiling and calculate the helicopter speed as it rises.

 illustration of balloon helicopter

STS-54 Data: In space the helicopter climbed faster than it does on Earth and crashed into the ceiling of the cabin. The balloon separated from the helicopter and the blades continued to spin for a while.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Third Law of Motion

Gravitron Gyroscopes Don McMonagle

Activities: The gravitron is an enclosed gyroscope. Gyroscope axles that can be wrapped with string can also be used. A wiffle ball with holes drilled in it permitted up to three Gravitrons to be joined together for some of the experiments. Some of the space experiments involved a string.

Hold the spinning gravitron in your hand. Move your hand toward you, and then away from you while keeping the gravitron upright. Start the gravitron spinning again and tilt your hand to the left and to the right. How does the gravitron react to each motion? Place the spinning gravitron with the tall end down on a table. Watch what happens as the gravitron slows down. Can you think of another spinning object that wobbles like this? Tie a string on one end of a gravitron. Start the gravitron spinning using the pull cord. Then swing the gravitron around in circles. How does the gravitron orient its axis? What would happen if you did not spin the Gravitron first?
 illustration of gravitron gyroscope

STS-54 Data:A spinning gravitron moved through the cabin without wobbling. When a spinning gravitron drifted into a non-spinning gravitron, the non-spinning gravitron tumbled, but the spinning gravitron did not. When two gravitrons spinning in the same direction were attached to a ball, the ball began to wobble and the.gravitrons flew off. When the same gravitrons were spun in opposite directions, their spinning canceled each other out. Three spinning gravitrons attached to the ball caused the ball to spin around an axis that was the combination of all three gravitron axes. When a spinning gravitron was swung at the end of a string, it aligned its axis at right angles to the string so it would not have to change the orientation of its axis as it swung around in circles.

Science/Math Link: Conservation of Angular, Momentum

Rattleback - Don McMonagle

Activities: Set the rattleback on a flat, smooth surface with the curved side down. Push on one tip. What happens to the rattleback? Does it turn clockwise or counterclockwise? Push down on the other tip and see how it spins. Set your rattleback on a flat smooth surface and spin it counterclockwise. How many turns does it make before stopping? Now spin the rattleback in a clockwise direction. How many turns does it make before stopping? How does it behave just before it stops? What happens after it stops? If spinning the rattleback clockwise causes it to rock, can you explain why it changes direction of spin? Would these changes happen in space?  illustration of rattleback

STS-54 Data: In space, a rattleback will spin in all directions equally well.

Science/Math Link: Conservation of Angular Momentum

Klacker Balls - Mario Runco

Activities: Hold the two balls horizontally on either side of the handle. Drop the balls at the same time. As they hit, move the handle upward. When they hit on top, move the handle downward. Do the klacker balls remain on the same side of the handle or do they change sides? Hold one ball above the handle and let the other one hang below. Release the top ball. As it swings down, it will hit the lower ball. With a small turn of the paddle, you can get the moving ball to circle the handle and hit the other ball. With a little practice this klacking motion will be easy.  illustration of klacker balls

STS-54 Data: The klacker's motion where the balls hit on the top and bottom could be done in space. The circular motion where you hit the ball at the bottom of each circle could not be mastered in space. There was no force to hold the ball down at the bottom of the circle and it kept circling the handle with the other ball. When taped open, and spun by twisting each ball in the same direction, the klacker's balls and handle swung around the center of mass.

Science/Math Link: Conservation of Angular Momentum
Newton's Third Law of Motion

Racquetballs & Pool balls - Susan Helms

Activities: Pool balls can be purchased, but it is less expensive to borrow some from someone who has a pool table. Roll the balls across a smooth surface and observe what happens when they collide. Is there a difference between balls of different mass or the same mass colliding with each other?  illustration of pool balls

STS-54 Data: The astronauts carried two blue racquetballs and two standard pool balls. The pool balls had four times the mass of the racquetballs. When the racquetball hit the pool ball, it bounced backward much faster than the pool ball moved forward. When the pool ball hit the racquetball, it continued to move forward pushing the racquetball forward also.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Third Law of Motion
Collisions - Elastic and Inelastic

Ball and Cup - John Casper

Activities: A ball and cup can be made from a stick, small paper cup, thumbtack, some string and a ball. Attach the cup to the end of the stick by pressing a thumbtack through the cup's bottom into the wood. Attach a small ball to one end of the string by "stitching" with an upholstery needle. Tie the other end of the string to the stick.

Hold the cup in one hand. Use a scooping motion to swing the ball upward. Try to catch the ball in the cup. What keeps the ball in the cup after it is caught?

STS-54 Data: Although several attempts were made to capture the ball in the cup, the ball would always bounce away. The ball also could not be thrown into the floating cup.

 illustration of ball and cup

Science/Math Link:
Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion

Velcro Balls & Target - Susan Helms
Activities: Place the target on the wall. Stand two meters away. Throw the balls overhanded and then underhanded at the target. Which method works better? Which method would work in space? Place the target on the floor. Stand on a chair directly above it. Drop the balls toward the target. Is it easier to hit the target this way? Hang the target from one string in the center of the room. Throw the balls toward the target from a distance of two meters. What happens to the target when you hit the center? What happens to the target when you hit the edge? What happens when you hit the target with a faster ball?  illustration of target and velcro balls
STS-54 Data: Astronaut Helms threw the ball as she would on Earth and it hit far above the target. The ball traveled in a straight line instead of falling downward as it does on Earth. When she pushed the ball, it traveled straight toward the target. When she gave the ball a top spin, the ball appeared to drop slightly as it moved toward the target. When she hit the floating target along the edge, she caused it to tumble. When she hit it in the middle, it merely moved away with the ball attached.

Science/Math Link: Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion

Horseshoes and Post - Susan Helms

Activities: Try to make ringers. What happens if you hit the post too hard? What do you think will happen in space?

STS-54 Data: To make a ringer, Susan Helms had to catch the hook at the end of the horseshoe around the post. When this was done correctly, the horseshoe spun around the post for up to five minutes. Other ringer attempts resulted in the horseshoe bouncing off the target. When the horseshoe hit a floating post near the base, it caused the target to move away with the horseshoe. When the horseshoe hit near the top of the post, it caused the target to tumble.
 illustration of horseshoes and post

Science/Math Link: Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion
Conservation of Angular Momentum

Basketball and Hoop Greg Harbaugh

Activities: Using the suction cups, secure the hoop to a wall. Practice throwing the ball until you make a basket. Where do you aim when you throw the ball? Would this technique work in space? Bounce the ball through the basket. You may bounce the ball off the floor, ceiling, or any wall. Which bounce might also work in space?

 illustration of ball in basketball hoop
STS-54 Data: Astronaut Harbaugh could not arc the ball into the basket or make a banked shot off the backboard. He could not get high enough above the basket to bounce the ball in. To make a basket, Astronaut Harbaugh had to bounce the ball off of the ceiling. Slam dunks were easy and usually included several 360's before pushing the ball through the hoop. The 360's were possible in the layout and tuck positions.

Science/Math Link: Newton's First and Third Laws of Motion

Jacob's Ladder - Susan Helms

Activities: Jacob's ladders can be made with small rectangles of soft wood, ribbon, and staples. It is best to obtain a commercially-made Jacob's ladder to use as a pattern.

Let the Jacob's ladder "fall" normally. Notice the location of the ribbons when the blocks flip.Why do the blocks flip? Will they flip in space? Hold the Jacob's ladder in a horizontal position with your hands on the end blocks. Pull the end blocks apart with tension. Fold the end blocks up or down to make changes in the ladder. Then pull the end blocks apart several times. Does the same thing happen each time? What might happen when this is done in space?

STS-54 Data: When the blocks were pushed together, they rebounded and moved apart. Then they came back together like an accordion. When the blocks were pulled apart, one block would either stick up or down. On the next pull, another block might stick out from the row of blocks.

Science/Math Link: Universal Law of Gravitation

 illustration of Jacob's ladder

Coiled Metal Spring - Mario Runco  illustration of coiled metal spring

 Activities: Stretch out your coiled spring between your hands. Then move one hand back and forth, pushing in and pulling out on the coiled spring. Watch the compression waves travel along the spring. Stretch the spring between your hands. Move one hand to the left and right. Then watch as this wave motion travels along the spring. Notice what happens when the wave reaches the end of the coiled spring. Repeat the first activity at a rate where places in the coiled spring seem to stand still. These are called standing waves and the still places are called nodes.

STS-54 Data: In the experiments conducted with the coiled spring in space, the spring functioned very much like it does on Earth.

Science/Math Link: Wave Motion

Magnetic Rings - John Casper

Activities: Slip three to six ring magnets on a pencil so that they repel each other. Wrap the ends of the pencil with tape so that the magnets cannot fall off. What happens if you push all the magnets together?

STS-54 Data: Six magnetic rings were placed on a one-foot-long plastic rod. The ends were taped to keep the rings from escaping. These rings have poles on the top and bottom. They were arranged so that like poles were facing and the rings pushed away from each other. When the rings were pushed together on one end of the rod and released, they resumed to their original position and vibrated for a moment. When Commander Casper caused the rod to spin quickly like a majorette's baton, the rings moved to the ends of the rod.  illustration of magnetic rings

Science/Math Link: Magnetism,Newton's Second Law of Motion,Centripetal Acceleration,Circular Motion

Magnetic Marbles - Greg Harbaugh

Activities: Inside each marble is a small cylindrical magnet. Therefore, each marble has a north and a south pole. Put a dot on one end of a marble. Add a second marble. Put a dot on the pole of the second marble that is NOT touching the pole of the first marble. Continue until all of the poles of your marbles are marked.  illustration of magnetic marbles

(The magnetic marbles used in space were modified slightly to achieve the yellow/blue patterns. Solid color marbles were split open and halves were matched in the right color combinations.)

Divide your marbles into two chains of four. Move the chains toward each other on a smooth table. How close do they come before the marbles jump together? Holding one marble, pick up another marble and then another. Repeat until your chain of marbles breaks. The weight of the marble chain minus one marble is a measure of the force between the top two marbles on the chain. On a smooth flat surface, roll two marbles toward each other slowly. Try this experiment several times to see if you can get the marbles to spin around each other.

STS-54 Data: The magnetic marbles in space were yellow on the north end and blue on the south end. When two marbles were held close together with opposite sides facing each other, they came together and joined with a spinning motion. When like sides were facing, the marbles flew apart. When one marble was floated into two, it joined the others and they began spinning around the middle marble. When a marble was moved quickly past another marble, it caused the other marble to spin. When two chains of four marbles moved toward each other, they joined into a single chain that oscillated back and forth. When a long chain of marbles was swung around in a circle, the chain broke at the innermost marble. When left floating in the cabin, the individual magnetic marbles aligned themselves with Earth's magnetic field.

Science/Math Link: Magnetism,Newton's Second Law of Motion, Centripetal Acceleration

Come-Back Can - Don McMonagle

Activities: A come-back can can be made from a clear plastic food storage container (1 qt.). Drill a hole in the center of the lid and in the center of the bottom. Attach a paper clip to one end of a rubber band and insert the other end through the hole in the bottom of the jar. Next attach two one-ounce fishing sinkers to the center of the rubber band so that they will hang down as shown in the diagram. Stretch the rubber band and insert the other end through the hole in the lid. Attach a second paper clip. The paper clips prevent the rubber band from slipping back through the hole. Fix both paper clips with tape so that they will not shift when the rubber band is wound. Screw the lid of the jar in place and roll the can along a table top.  illustration of come-back can

If the weights are hung properly, they will cause the rubber band to wind up as it rolls. When the can stops rolling, the stored energy in the rubber band will cause the can to roll back to its starting position. How would you wind up the rubber band if you could not place the can on a table top?

STS-54 Data: When the come-back can was released with a spinning motion, the can turned as did the weight in the center. When the weight was wound up inside the can and the can was released, the weight unwound inside the can while the can fumed the other direction. When the weight inside the can was wound up and the can was placed against a locker, the can pushed off the locker and floated into the cabin.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Third Law of Motion,Universal Law of Gravitation, Conservation of Angular Momentum

Pull-Back Car and Track - Mario Runco

Activities: Give the car a push and measure how far it rolls on a smooth, level floor. What affects the distance that your car travels? Would it roll on a wall in space? Roll the car's wheels back and forth while pressing the car against a surface. Release the car and notice how the wheels push the car forward. What would happen when the car's engine is wound up and the car is released in space? Place a wound-up car in a Loop and watch it go around. How does speed change as it moves around the loop? Where on the loop does it fall out? Would it fall out of the loop in space? illustration of pull-back car and track

STS-54 Data: When the car was wound up and released in air, it began spinning in the opposite direction from the turning motor inside. When the car was wound up and released inside the track, it circled until its engine wound down. When the car was wound up and released inside the track and the track was released, the track fumed round and round as the car circled inside.

Science/Math Link: Newton's Three Laws of Motion,Centripetal Acceleration, Universal Law of Gravitation


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