DOVER, Fla — While it has been said, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” 233 Florida students opted to not take that advice as they had their eyes on the prize—a single unbroken egg—Saturday, May 18, as they competed in the fourth annual Planetary Lander Egg Drop Competition at Strawberry Crest High School located in Dover, Fla.
The competition was hosted by Space Florida and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to inspire students from all grade levels to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and to foster critical thinking through designing and building their own “landers,” designed to cushion and protect an egg.
The event boasted designs from students in elementary, middle, and high school teams across several Florida counties. Ten elementary school teams, 19 middle school teams, and 15 high school teams took part in the competition, in which their designs were judged for creativity, durability, originality, planning, and, of course, whether their egg “payload,” dropped from a height of 20 feet, landed intact without cracking or breaking.
“It inspires them to get involved in terms of science and spaceflight, especially landing, of course, by learning about how to protect your egg,” said Space Florida Project Manager Ryan Kobrick PhD. “You need to protect the astronauts and the payload. It’s also really important to take into consideration other aspects of design, such as the weight of the vehicle.”
Students’ designs included lightweight materials as diverse as plastic water bottles attached together to form an “air cushion,” and bubble wrap, balsa wood, and streamers were added to increase drag; they were allowed to use a wide range of materials including aluminum, plastic, wood, and soft foam, with a design 10 by 10 by 12 inches across. Students also created vibrant posters to explain their visions; one group even wrote a rap tune about their innovative design.
By all appearances, the students found the event fun, yet informative.
“In the high school we go to, we have an engineering program. We try, as engineers, to get together and try to build something we can actually test. This is the first thing we’ll do as engineers in our careers,” said Isaiah Peay of Central Florida Aerospace Academy.
“It’s really important because we’re really emphasizing STEM areas. This incorporates all of that, and it’s something that is very fun and doable. The children have learned to make multiple iterations of something—you can’t go with your first idea; it’s not going to be a success right away,” said Donna Terrell, a teacher at Lithia Springs Elementary who brought her third grade team to the competition. “You have to be persistent, keep trying, and keep working … it’s learning how to research, do teamwork, do it multiple times, and be persistent in problem-solving.”
The event took place from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the morning hours, a panel of judges watched the student teams present their landers’ designs. In the afternoon, the landers faced the ultimate test—the 20-foot drop. Statistically, approximately half of the teams had a successful landing. Other activities, brought to the site by Kennedy Space Center, included a hover board, a photo booth, and a visit from a “spaceman,” decked out in the prerequisite spacesuit, and proved to provide hours of space-related fun for the students.
Terrell’s students summed up the general feeling about the day when they responded to her query: “Did you guys think it was fun?” Her third graders shouted in unison, “Yes!”
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