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Heavy Lifting

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Heavy Lifting

In this activity, learners work in NASA teams to build balloon-powered rockets using identical parts and compete to launch the greatest number of paper clips to "space" (the ceiling). The rockets learners build model the Ares V heavy lift launchers that carry heavy payloads into orbit. This lesson plan includes background information, tips, discussion questions and answers, and a "Mission Report" sheet for learners.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Large binder clips (one per launch pad)
  • Fishing line or smooth string
  • Long balloons (sometimes called 524 airships or balloons)
  • Bathroom size (3 oz) paper cup
  • 2 straight drinking straws
  • 50 small paper clips
  • Sandwich size plastic bag
  • Masking tape
  • Balloon hand pumps (optional)
  • Wooden spring-type clothespins (optional)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
      • Probes, Satellites and Spacecraft
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Aerospace Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Number and Operations
    • Problem Solving
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
      • Momentum and Velocity
      • Acceleration
      • Projectile Motion
      • Newton's Laws
      • Center of Gravity
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Research and Development
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards

Includes assesments for student learning

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Shearer, Deborah A.; Vogt, Ed.D., Gregory L.


  • Public Domain


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