How to: kids' science projects on space shuttles

Updated February 21, 2017

Space exploration is a subject that captures the minds of many elementary students. To enhance science class for the aspiring space traveller, a wealth of lesson plans and supplemental materials are available from NASA and other educational sources online. Many of these focus on space shuttle technology. For an easy and fun project focusing on this subject, students can create their own space shuttle cruiser or build a model of the shuttle's cockpit control panels to learn more about the technical inner workings of space travel. The space cruiser project is appropriate for kindergarten through fourth grade, depicting a smaller version of the transport craft that astronauts use for space station travel. The cockpit model project is more suitable for older elementary students.

Glue a rectangular piece of white construction paper around a toilet paper tube.

Draw three triangular shapes on construction paper to create two shuttle wings and the shuttle tail. Cut out the shapes.

Use a scissors or box knife to cut a slit in one end of the toilet paper tube and slide the tail in place. Fold and tape the tail inside the tube to secure.

Draw and cut a conical outline out of construction paper. Fold into a cone to create the nose of the craft and glue to the other end of the toilet paper tube.

Cut a straw in half to match the length of the wings. Glue the straw pieces across both wings. Cut another two straws to match the length of the toilet paper tube. Glue both along the toilet paper tube. Describe the various parts of a real shuttle to students, including the rocket boosters and external fuel tanks.

Use paint or markers to add colour or finishing touches once the shuttle craft has dried.

Divide students or participants into groups to create separate instrument panels. Each group of three to four students will create a single panel to bring together to create the full cockpit control area. Print images of the shuttle control panel from the official NASA website or other online resource. Give each group an image of a different instrument panel.

Draw or trace a rough outline of the instrument panel monitor(s), toggles, buttons and switches on graph paper to serve as a scale drawing for the model.

Use a ruler to measure the appropriate distance for all controls on a large cardboard box. Glue together smaller shoe boxes and lids to create smaller panel platforms. Use pencils to mark approximate locations of all switches and buttons. Once the locations for all of the controls have been measured and marked with the pencil, use markers to draw the actual switches and buttons.

Base the complexity of the control panel detail on the grade level of students. Older kids can create more technical keypads and input control centres. Inform students that a real shuttle cockpit simulator has more than 2,000 buttons and more than 50 screens.

Place each group's instrument panel together on a large shelf or surface to create your final cockpit. Have students create a "preflight checklist" from a sequence of buttons to be pushed and see who can remember the order.

Things You'll Need

  • Cardboard and/or large cardboard boxes
  • Construction paper
  • Toilet paper tube
  • Straws
  • Glue
  • Scissors and/or box cutter
  • Tape
  • Paints and paintbrushes
  • Pencils or markers
  • Ruler
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About the Author

Marissa Abernathy began writing professionally in 2007 on parenting, travel, electronics and technology. She has contributed to the "Norfolk Daily News" and to nonprofit publications of Northwestern Publishing House. As a writer for a web development company, she has provided content for hundreds of resort websites. Abernathy has a dual Bachelor of Arts in art and communicative arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College.