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In this design challenge activity, learners build a shock-absorbing system that will protect two “astronauts” when they land. Learners follow the engineering design process to design and build a shock-absorbing system out of paper, straws, and mini-marshmallows, attach their shock absorber to a cardboard platform, and improve their design based on testing results. Educators can use this activity to introduce learners to the design process as well as kinetic/potential energy, acceleration, and air resistance.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Model, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • 1 piece of stiff paper or cardboard (approximately 4 x 5 in/10 x 13 cm)
  • 1 small paper or plastic cup
  • 3 index cards (3 x 5 in/8 x 13 cm)
  • 2 regular marshmallows
  • 10 miniature marshmallows
  • 3 rubber bands
  • 8 plastic straws
  • scissors
  • tape


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
      • Probes, Satellites and Spacecraft
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Aerospace Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Potential and Kinetic Energy
      • Energy and Power
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity
      • Acceleration
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
    • Science as a Career
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Food and Cooking
  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Design Squad Nation


Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 0810996