STEM Tuesdays: Bottle Rockets

Today we’re celebrating Kalpana Chawla, an astronaut, and engineer, and learning how to make bottle rockets!

Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India. After getting a degree in aeronautical engineering, Kalpana immigrated to the United States and continued her education with a doctorate in aerospace engineering. In 1997, Kalpana entered space as a mission specialist on a space shuttle; she was the first woman of Indian origin to enter space.

Space shuttles use rocket boosters and combustion to launch them into orbit. We’re going to create our own small-scale rocket, but we’re going to use a baking soda/vinegar combo to launch it into the air!

Rocket Materials

First, you need your rocket. We used a two liter plastic bottle, but you can also use a 16 ounce bottle, a film canister, or a plastic Easter egg. If you’re using a plastic bottle, you’ll also need a cork or rubber bottle stopper. If you’re using a plastic egg, make sure it doesn’t have any holes in it; cut any plastic tie that might hold the two ends together.

We used a two liter plastic bottle and taped three pencils around it to look more like a rocket.

Fuel Materials

We used baking soda and vinegar. Another explosive combo is Alka Seltzer and water; you can also try water, citric acid, and baking soda.

SAFETY FIRST
DO
 wear eye protection.
DON’T stick your face over the rocket after you’ve added all the ingredients.
DO run at least 15 feet away after mixing the ingredients.
DO wait several minutes for your rocket to explode. If it still doesn’t explode, gently pry the top off – but DON’T point it towards your face while doing so.

Instructions

STEP 1. Tape three pencils around the side of your plastic bottle to create a stand for your rocket. The mouth of the bottle should face down.
STEP 2. Pour vinegar into your bottle until it is 1/3 to 1/2 full.
STEP 3. Wrap several tablespoons of baking soda into a toilet paper, paper towel, or paper napkin packet.
STEP 4. Slide your baking soda packet into your plastic bottle. Quick put a cork or bottle stopper into the mouth of the bottle, then flip it upside down so that it is balanced on the three pencils. Don’t put the bottle stopper in too tightly.
STEP 5. Run! Run a safe distance away from the bottle and wait for it to explode.

How high did your bottle go? Try experimenting with different measurements of baking soda and vinegar. How does that change the explosion? What happens if you try the experiment using a film canister or a plastic egg? What if you use Alka Seltzer and water as your fuel instead?

What Happened?

We created a chemical reaction using baking soda and vinegar! When our two chemicals mixed together, they formed a new chemical – carbon dioxide gas. The pressure from the gas built up inside our container until the bottle stopper burst off and our rocket popped into the air.

Vocab Words

Aerospace: A branch of technology that covers space flight and aircraft.
Aeronautics: The science of traveling through the air.
Chemical Reaction: When two or more chemicals come together to create a new chemical.

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