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  History of Rockets
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  Beginner's Guide

Rockets Teacher's Guide with Activities

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office of Human Resources and Education
Education Division

This publication is in the Public Domain and is not protected by copyright. Permission is not required  for duplication.
We only ask that you credit NASA as the source.

Original Document: EP-291 July 1993
Modified Document: EG-2003-01-108-HQ 2003


This section of the Beginner's Guide to Rockets is an on-line copy of a NASA Educational Publication. The publication is available in printed form from the NASA Educational Publications and Products web site. This on-line copy was originally developed for the Learning Technologies Project at NASA Glenn Research Center. There is very little math, no hyperlinks, and no interactive pages in this section. To explore the math and science of rockets more interactively, the student is directed to the Beginner's Guide Index.

The original publication was developed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with the assistance of the many educators of the Aerospace Education Services Program, Oklahoma State University.


Gregory L. Vogt, Ed.D.
Teaching From Space Program
NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX


Carla R. Rosenberg
Teaching From Space Program
NASA Headquarters Washington, DC

Roger Storm
High School Science Teacher and Summer Intern
NASA Glenn Research Center

Tom Benson
Senior Research Engineer
NASA Glenn Research Center

Special Thanks to:

Timothy J. Wickwenheiser
Chief, Advanced Mission Analysis Branch
NASA Glenn Research Center

Gordon W. Eskridge
Aerospace Educational Specialist
Oklahoma State University

Dale M. Olive
Teacher, Hawaii

Narcrisha S. Norman
NASA Coop Student
Old Dominion University

How To Use This Guide

Rockets are the oldest form of self-contained vehicles in existence. Early rockets were in use more than two thousand years ago. Over a long and exciting history, rockets have evolved from simple tubes filled with black powder into mighty vehicles capable of launching a spacecraft out into the galaxy. Few experiences can compare with the excitement and thrill of watching a rocket-powered vehicle, such as the Space Shuttle, thunder into space. Dreams of rocket flight to distant worlds fire the imagination of both children and adults.

With some simple and inexpensive materials, you can mount an exciting and productive physical science unit about rockets for children, even if you don't know much about rockets yourself. The unit also has applications for art, chemistry, history, mathematics, and technology education. The many activities contained in this teaching guide emphasize hands-on involvement. It contains background information about the history of rockets and basic rocket science to make you an "expert."

The guide begins with background information sections on the history of rocketry, scientific principles, and practical rocketry. The sections on scientific principles and practical rocketry are based on Isaac Newton's Three Laws of Motion. These laws explain why rockets work and how to make them more efficient.

The background sections are followed with a series of physical science activities that demonstrate the basic science of rocketry. Each activity is designed to be simple and take advantage of inexpensive materials. Construction diagrams, material and tools lists, and instructions are included. A brief discussion elaborates on the concepts covered in the activities and is followed with teaching notes and discussion questions.

Because many of the activities and demonstrations apply to more than one subject area, a matrix chart has been included on this page to assist in identifying opportunities for extended learning experiences. The chart identifies these subject areas by activity and demonstration title. In addition, many of the student activities encourage student problem- solving and cooperative learning. For example, students can use problem-solving to come up with ways to attach fins in the Bottle Rocket activity. Cooperative learning is a necessity in the Altitude Tracking and Balloon Staging activities.

The length of time involved for each activity and demonstration will vary according to its degree of difficulty and the development level of the students. Generally, demonstrations will take just a few minutes to complete. With the exception of the Altitude Tracking activity, most activities can be completed in less than an hour.

A Note on Measurement

In developing this guide, metric units of measurement were employed. In a few exceptions, notably within the "materials needed" lists, English units have been listed. In the United States, metric- sized parts such as screws and wood stock are not as accessible as their English equivalents. Therefore, English units have been used to facilitate obtaining required materials.


Table of Activities versus Math and Science Standards

Any comments, concerns, or questions should be addressed to:    

Developer: Tom Benson    
Responsible NASA Official: Tom Benson    



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Editor: Tom Benson
NASA Official: Tom Benson
Last Updated: May 13 2021

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