The Power of a Puff of Air
In May the Explorers found that air not only is made of matter, it has enough power to launch a “rocket” to an impressive height.
This was actually a two-session activity. At the first meeting the group created rockets, using nothing but magazine paper, poster board, tissues, and tape. They started by wrapping a pair of 2-page magazine sheets tightly around a half-inch diameter length of PVC pipe (remember that pipe, we’ll be using it again later!) and taping it closed to make a cylinder open at both ends. Next they pinched closed one end of the cylinder, used tape to make that end airtight, and then used more tape to secure a wadded-up piece of tissue on top. Additional tape was added along the side seams as necessary to make the whole thing airtight (aside from the end that was still open). Finally, they cut out from poster board three small “fins” and attached them (more tape!) to the bottom of the rocket.
At the next meeting it was time to make the launchers. These were constructed from the same sort of high-tech, seriously expensive materials as the rockets: this time, we used the afore-mentioned PVC pipe, duct tape, and empty 2-liter pop bottles. It might be more helpful to look at the pictures rather than trying to imagine a finished launcher from a written description, but here goes: first, take a long (three or four feet) length of PVC pipe and lay it flat. Using the duct tape, attach two shorter (one foot) pieces of pipe to the bottom of it—these will keep it laying flat rather than rolling around. Next, attach first a 90-degree connecting elbow piece and then a mid-range (couple of feet long) section of pipe so that this new piece sticks up vertically from the long base piece. Then slide the opening on a 2-liter pop bottle (which just happens to fit PERFECTLY over the half-inch PVC pipe) onto the end of the long base piece that is opposite from the piece standing up. Finally, use copious amounts of duct tape to seal off the connections between the pipes, the bottle, and the 90-degree elbow.
Yeah, like I said, it’ll make more sense if you look at the pictures!
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Anyway, with the preparations complete, it was now time for the Explorers to haul several of these launcher contraptions—and all of the previously-made rockets—to the school’s back yard. There they took turns slipping their rockets over the open end of a launcher, stepping to the end with the pop bottle, and giving a well-placed hard stomp to the center of the bottle. This set off a rapid-fire sequence of events: as the bottle was squashed flat, the air inside it was forced into the long base piece of pipe; there it changed direction thanks to the 90-degree elbow; and now it shot up the vertical pipe and into the bottom of the rocket. With the other end of the rocket closed off and air-tight, the air pressure now had no option but to pop the rocket off the end of the launcher—sending the rocket soaring up into the blue skies. No, we didn’t exactly achieve orbital velocity, but for rockets made of paper and powered by nothing but air, they got up there pretty well!
To see pictures of our rocket engineering activity, check out the photo gallery. For more information about previous rocket launches (along with a video showing them in action)—or specific directions on building your own air rockets and launchers—click on the links below.