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Design a Parachute

Grade Level:

4-6, 7-9, 9-12, 13-16

Game Length:

Very short (less than 10 min)

Teaching Materials:

External Review:

Publisher:

WGBH Nova

Description:

For an engineer, there's perhaps no greater feeling than to be given a problem and then devising a successful solution. More often than not, the satisfaction—or disappointment—that results from such a challenge is a factor of the stakes involved. For the two Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions, with $800 million on the line, the stakes were especially high—perhaps no more so than for the engineers in charge of designing the missions' parachutes. Their task was to come up with a chute strong enough not to be blown apart when opened at high speed, stable enough to keep the MER from swinging, and yet small enough to fit in a small canister.

Here, take on the role of the lead engineer in charge of designing the MER parachute. Can you come up with a design that will slow the MER safely as it approaches the martian surface? You'll need to consider trade-offs in the parachute's stability, strength, and volume. To launch the interactive, click on the image at left.—Rick Groleau