Educator's Cheapbook
Potato Astronaut 
part 2
Submitted by:
Gregory Vogt
NASA Johnson Space Center
2001 NASA Road 1
Code CB
Houston, TX  77058
1998



Cheapbook contents  |  Introduction
Pea Shooter  |  Potato Astronaut 1  |  Potato Astronaut 2

Investigation

   In part one of Potato Astronaut, students found that “high speed” impacts enabled the plastic straw to penetrate the potato without collapsing.  Challenge the students to design a way to protect the potato from damage caused by the impacts using just the materials they brought to the classroom.  Their solutions to this challenge should be flexible and light in weight. 
 

Materials and Tools Checklist

    • Plastic (milkshake-size) straw
    • potato
    • tissue paper, notebook paper, handkerchiefs, rubber bands, napkins, aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, etc.
    • Impact Resistance Test Stand

Procedure

  1. Students design a method for protecting potato astronauts from damage caused by the plastic straw when it is quickly stabbed into the potato.
  2. After students have tested a method for protecting a potato, conduct a discussion to evaluate technologies developed.  Refine the constraints for a protection system (eg. the materials used must together be no thicker than ___mm).
  3. Have students redesign their system based on the refined constraints.  Conduct additional impact tests with the straw.
  4. Test protection systems by using the Impact Resistance Test Stand.  Evaluate the effectiveness of the protection systems developed.

Extensions

  • Compare technologies for protecting astronauts from micrometeoroid and space debris impacts to other protective technologies such as bullet-proof vests, suits of armor, shields on power tools, and windshields on vehicles.  How does the function determine the form?  (eg. Motorcycle helmet provide protection during crash...be streamlined ... comfortable to wear...protect face from bugs and rock impacts, etc.)
  • Experiment with different fabrics and fabric combinations for protective garments.
Micrometeoroids and Space Debris
Potato Astronaut - part one
Pea Shooter Meteoroids