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        Tater­Nauts: Testing Spacesuits for Impact Resistance | Stem in 30

        In this activity, students will design spacesuits using different materials. Spacesuits will need to hold up to impact testing to simulate impacts with orbital debris.

        Lesson Summary

        Lesson Title:  Tater­Nauts: Testing Spacesuits for Impact Resistance
        Grade Level(s):  5-­8
        Timeline:  1-2 class periods

        Lesson Overview: In this activity, students will design spacesuits using different materials. Spacesuits will need to hold up to impact testing to simulate impacts with orbital debris.

        Learning Objectives

        NGSS Standards:

        MS­ESS3­3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

        MS­ETS1­1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

        MS­ETS1­2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

        MS­ETS1­4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

        Crosscutting Concepts: Energy and Matter, Structure and Function

        Science and Engineering Practices: Planning and carrying out investigations, Analyzing and interpreting data

        Prep for Teachers


        There are over 22,000 pieces of orbital debris bigger than 10 cm being tracked in orbit around Earth. Each is traveling at over 17,000 mph. There are many more pieces smaller than 10 cm that are not tracked. Spacesuits must be able to withstand impacts with these small pieces of debris.

        Orbital debris has a tremendous amount of kinetic energy because of the high velocity of the debris, even though it has a very small mass.


        • Potatoes (one for each group)
        • Tinfoil (6 inch piece per group)
        • Gold Foil (optional)
        • Cloth (6 inch piece per group)
        • Wax Paper (6 inch piece per group)
        • Copy Paper (6 inch piece per group)
        • Any other covering materials available in your classroom
        • Punch (available at your local hardware store)
        • Wrapping paper tube (one)
        • Tape
        • Markers or sharpies (optional)


        Orbital Debris: ​Any man­made object orbiting the earth that is not controllable. T​his includes spent rocket stages, old satellites and fragments from disintegration, erosion and collisions.

        Kinetic Energy:​ T​he energy of motion. An object that has motion ­ whether it is vertical or horizontal motion ­has kinetic energy.

        Introductory Activity

        • Students are given the challenge of creating a spacesuit that will withstand an impact with orbital debris.
        • Spacesuits will be built around “Tater­Nauts” (potatoes). They may use up to 4 layers of material, but only 3 layers if they use gold foil.
          • The number of layers and materials used can be adjusted for individual classroom settings.
        • Students build spacesuits.
        • Testing:
          • To simulate the kinetic energy of an impact with orbital debris (small mass and large velocity) you will be using a large mass (punch) and small velocity (dropping the punch down a wrapping paper tube) as a simulation.
          • Drop punches onto each potato and unwrap to see what damage was done.
          • Unwrap carefully if you plan on using the lesson extensions.
        • Use the Spacesuit Data page as a guide.


        Extension 1: Spacesuits are designed to meet the various challenges in space including extreme temperatures, radiation, comfort, flexibility, and protection from micrometeorite impacts. You can test your potato space suits for these other factors.

        • Place a thermometer under the space suit and place both under a heat lamp for 5 minutes. See if the temperature increased more than 5 degrees.
        • Place UV beads, (available online) which turn colors when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, under the suit and place in a window for 10­15 minutes, did the beads changed color? In a good suit, the beads should not change color.


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