Rocket science, also called aerospace engineering, is a complex science that includes many facets of study.

To send one shuttle into space, scientists must study the flow of air around an object (aerodynamics), spacecraft trajectories and gravitational influences (orbital mechanics), the movement and forces in mechanical systems (engineering mechanics), the electronics within the engineering of the spacecraft (electrotechnology), the energy to move a vehicle through space (propulsion), the dynamic behavior of aircraft (control engineering), how to design the craft to withstand forces during flight (aircraft structures), what materials are best for aerospace structures (materials science), the interaction of aerodynamic forces and structural stability (aeroelasticity), the design of computer systems onboard the spacecraft (avionics), and much more.

Whew! That is a lot!

In the experiments below we will only be studying one area of rocket science: propulsion. Propulsion is the process of propelling or driving an object with force. In rocket science, scientists must know what and how much to use to propel the spacecraft into the air at the right speed for it to break free of the earth's atmosphere. In the experiments below, we will be using different ingredients to propel objects into the air.

Experiment 1: Cork Rocket Propulsion

In this experiment, we are going to send a cork into the air using gases.

Items Needed:

     • One clean one-liter soda bottle 

     • One cork that fits snugly (but isn't forced) in the opening of the soda bottle 

     • One thumb tack (optional) 

     • Streamers or ribbon (optional) 

     • ½ cup water 

     • ½ cup vinegar 

     • 1 tsp baking soda 

     • 4 x 4-inch paper towel


     • Add the water and vinegar to the bottle. 

     • If you want, place the streamers onto the top of the cork with the thumb tack. 

     • Place the baking soda into the center of the paper towel and twist it closed so that the baking soda does not fall out. 

     • Go outside, and drop the paper towel into the bottle 

     • Quickly place the cork into the bottle and back away! 

     • The baking soda should react with the vinegar water solution, causing carbon dioxide gas to build up within the bottle. When the level of carbon dioxide became too much to stay within the bottle, it forces the cork into the air to make more room.

Experiment 2: Rocket-Powered Pennies

When doing this experiment, remember that warm air moves faster than cold air and takes more space. See how this affects the propulsion of a penny.

Items Needed: 

     • One clean one-liter soda bottle 

     • One penny 

     • One freezer  


     • Place the soda bottle into the freezer for one hour. 

     • Take the bottle out of the freezer.  

     • Wet the top of the bottle.

     • Place the penny on the top of the bottle so that there are no leaks.