Safe Landing (Student Instruction)

 Students devise ways to ensure that a cup with a ball inside it lands upright, without the ball falling out, when dropped from a height of at least 1 foot.


STEM careers

Grade level


Substitutions can be made for almost any of these materials:

  • 1 to 2 small pieces of cardboard scissors
  • small cup
  • small ball
  • tape
  • plastic shopping bag
  • string or yarn
  • index cards
  • straws
  • cotton balls
  • rubber band


  1. Identify the Problem
    • The most critical step of any engineering challenge is to understand the problem you are trying to solve.
    • The two problems you are trying to solve is slowing the descent of your lander and absorbing the energy of impact when your lander touches the ground.
    • How might you slow your lander down?
      • Explore how parachutes work. A canopy is the part of the parachute that fills with air. Air trapped in the canopy slows the fall of a parachute because of air resistance, or the force of the air pushing against the canopy.
    • How can you lessen the impact on your lander when it hits the ground?
      • Hint: Think about shock absorbers. They are used to absorb the energy of the impact when gravity slams something into the ground.
      • Springs are a good shock absorbers. What is it about their shape that helps them absorb impact?
  2. Collect Materials
    • Start collecting materials for your lander.
    • Don’t have all of the items on the list? That’s okay – you don’t need all of them. Look around and see if there are other materials you can use instead or do without.
      • Don’t have a small ball? Can you make one out of tinfoil?
  3. Brainstorm Designs
    • Review the challenge and the problems you are trying to solve.
    • Look at your materials. Which ones can help you soften the cup’s landing? How might you create a parachute to slow the lander’s fall?
  4. Build It
    • Start building! If possible, take pictures of the materials as you build. Maybe one at the beginning, one during the process, and one at the end.
    • When you are finished building, make a prediction. Will your lander stay upright from a 1-foot drop? A 2-foot drop? A 3-foot drop?
    • Record your prediction.
  5. Test It
    • Test your lander! Start with a 1-foot drop. Did it work? Then see how far a distance it can be dropped before it fails.
  6. Share Results
    • Share your results and your design with your teacher or parents.
    • Did it work like you thought it would?
    • What design changes would you make?
  7. Make Changes and Try Again!

This activity was provided by Design Squad Global.
DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL is produced by WGBH Boston. Major funding is provided by the National Science Foundation. Project funding is provided by the Lemelson Foundation. The DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1422236. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. © WGBH Educational Foundation.


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