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Rough Science 4 Death Valley: Ellen McCallie's diary: Rocket

Updated Tuesday, 29th August 2006

Ellen McCallie's diary about the challenge for the Rocket programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 4

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Ellen supervises the rocket test Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Day 1

So how do you end a series on space? Shoot up some rockets!

Challenge: The geologist and botanist are to make a parachute and nose cone that will safely bring an egg back to Earth after being shot into the air with a rocket. The physicists and chemists are to make the rockets.

This was fun and funny. First, neither of us had ever thought about parachutes, but that’s no reason not to try. The science seemed pretty straightforward. The parachute was to create drag to slow the landing, but not so much that it would be blown sideways off course.

We had bin bags to work with, plus string and 2-litre bottles. Kate limited us to one dozen eggs. We made several different sized parachutes. Neither Iain nor I are extremely detail-oriented, so we found our first parachutes rocking all over the place on their way down. We quickly learned that the strings had to be exactly, exactly, exactly the same length, not “about” the same length. The bin-bag parachute had to be a circle, a real circle not an approximate circle. The hole in the middle had to really be in the middle. So, we slowed down and made good parachutes. Once we did this, they worked—at least they floated to the ground.

Day 2

The task of getting an egg to the ground unbroken was a good excuse to climb high into the Alabama Hills to test the parachute. We never succeeded in bringing the egg down without breaking it, but it was landing on granite, so of course it broke! Granted, we never told the rest of the team this until later…

Day 3

So Iain and I tried fitting our nose cone to several rockets. Kathy’s looked most promising so we focused on it. By doing so, we all got wet! The problem wasn’t getting the rocket into the air, it was getting the nose cone to come off. We tried making changes in the launch system to get the rocket to go higher, but we were running out of time. Jonathan finally gave up on the steam rocket and helped with the deployment system.

Mike’s rocket worked on a small scale but was so exothermic (heat producing) on a large scale that it melted the plastic of the rocket!

So in the end, we all gathered to send an egg into “space” and bring it back safely to Earth. That’s it for Rough Science 4!

Kudos to a fabulous production team and crew!





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