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Homemade Rocket Science

  • Melissa Pinkley Home School Enrichment Magazine
  • 2010 17 Nov
Homemade Rocket Science

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.

     • Place the bottle with the penny back in the freezer for another hour.  

     • Take the bottle out of the freezer and carefully hold the sides of the bottle with both hands.

     • Keep holding the bottle and wait till the penny moves.

What does the penny do? The air inside the bottle is very cold from being in the freezer. The heat of your hands holding onto the bottle warms the air inside the bottle. As we mentioned before, warm air moves around and takes more space than cold air. The heated air needs more room. The penny is moved out of the way by the pressure of the heated air.  

Experiment 3: Matchstick Rockets

For this experiment, it is very important to have ADULT SUPERVISION. Please be very careful as you complete this experiment, as there will be fire used to propel these matchstick rockets through combustion.

Items Needed:

     • Matchbook matches or wooden stick matches

     • Lighter (optional)

     • Small squares of aluminum foil

     • Paperclip or safety pin

     • Rock

     • Container of water or fire extinguisher (just in case)


     • Take one match and wrap a small amount of aluminum foil tightly around the match head.

     • At the base of the match head, make a small opening in the foil by inserting the paperclip or safety pin and bending it slightly upward, then remove the paperclip or safety pin.

     • Place the rock on a hard surface covered with aluminum foil.

     • Place the foiled match on the rock, angled away from observers.

     • Ignite a fire with either a lighter or another match and hold the flame under the foiled match until its combustion temperature is reached (you will know this has occurred when the match starts to move).  

The match rocket is propelled when the match burns in the closed environment of the aluminum foil. The smoke and gas created by this burning are the propulsion agent that carries the match rocket away from the observers. The size of the opening made in the aluminum foil will cause different speeds of propulsion.


As you study rocket science, you will learn more and more about how scientists discover the different aspects needed for successful aerospace engineering. God is not surprised by any of these discoveries because they follow the laws that He set in place from the beginning. Have fun experimenting with propulsion! 

Melissa Pinkley enjoys life with her husband, Wes. They learn a lot from their four children: Ben, Micah, Levi and Abigail. Homeschooling goes on 24/7 for the whole Pinkley family. They have been homeschooling for 10+ years.  The Lord is gracious and continues to help them follow Him.

This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Request your own FREE sample copy by visiting

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