Pump-Action Rocket Launcher

We sent a paper rocket hundreds of feet into the air! Using hardware store items and a little elbow grease!

Last summer (2011), my sister Laurie — a high school teacher here in Boston — attended NASA’s “Teaching from Space” program in Houston. Here she is, below, doing a zero-g experiment as part of the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.

Besides an awesome hairdo, she brought back from Houston a book titled The NASA Rocket Educator Guide. She gave this book to her friend update: husband Lawry, who teaches high school math in Boston. Lawry followed the book’s instructions for building a paper rocket launcher (using PVC pipes, a valve, and a bicycle pump), and also a simple Launch Altitude Tracker, which allows you to calculate the altitude a rocket reaches in its flight. Fun!

Max and Laurie track the rocket’s flight

We made a bunch of paper rockets, and took turns launching them. A tracker, some distance away (we measured exactly how far away, with a tape measure), uses the Launch Altitude Tracker to determine the angle between the ground and the rocket at the top of its flight. We then calculated the rocket’s altitude using a sheet of graph paper and some pretty simple math. It was really fun. And it made us get competitive about our rockets. Now we’re all studying up so we can build better paper rockets.

PS: Here’s my secret weapon in the rocket race — user comments at MAKE. Example: “1) use a spray bottle to mist the card stock lightly before forming the tube and cone but give them a minute to dry before tape. 2) After you have a finished cone that you’re happy with, use it to form the moist card stock over for the next one.” Nice!