Gravity Experiments
Perfect Landing

In these gravity experiments you will be creating and testing different types of parachutes. Astronauts had to use parachutes to slow their capsules down so they could land in the ocean without being killed before space shuttles were built that could return to land. The parachutes slowed their entry enough so their space capsules did not break apart when they hit the water in the ocean.

Gravity experiments with parachutes. Photo by Myrna Martin
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Materials

  • Cloth at least 12 square inches in size
  • String
  • Small plastic toy
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Cut a piece of cloth into a square that is 12 inches on each side. The cloth square will be the canopy of your parachute.
  2. Cut five strings 12 inches long.
  3. Tie a string to each corner of the parachute's canopy.
  4. Bring the four strings together so they are all the same length from the canopy and tie them in a knot.
  5. Tie the plastic toy to the 5th string securely. Tie the string holding the toy to the knot below the canopy of the parachute.

Testing your parachute

  1. Take your parachute outside and drop it off a deck or some place that has a little height to see if your parachute works.
  2. If you do not have a place to drop your parachute you can throw it into the air and let it float down.
  3. Adjust the strings and the weight of the toy as needed.
  4. Try more gravity experiments using parachutes of different sizes.
  5. Take a large lightweight plastic garbage bag and cut it into an octagon (an eight-sided figure).
  6. Punch 8 small evenly spaced holes in the plastic with a nail or the end of a pair of scissors.
  7. Use 8 longer strings to tie to your plastic canopy and attach them to the top of a paper cup.
  8. Take your plastic parachute and drop it from a deck, etc. Add different weights to the cup to test your parachute.
  9. Try cutting a hole in the top of your parachute to see if it falls straighter.
  10. Cut a parachute in a rectangle and see if it works as well as a square or octagon.

Science behind the activity

Scientists conducted many gravity experiments as they tested different parachutes to slow large objects down. Space capsules returning to Earth during early space explorations were traveling too fast to land safely as they returned to Earth so they needed parachutes.

Parachutes in the space capsules opened and reduced the space capsules speed of reentry. The air resistance of the huge umbrella shaped parachutes slowed the space capsules as the gravity tried to accelerate the speed of reentry. The parachutes slowed their return to Earth enough to safely splash down in the ocean.

Ships were waiting nearby to pick up the returning astronauts. Parachutes are also used to slow down high speed race cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats after they set land speed records.

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Gravity Experiments, Perfect Landing Astronauts in the early days of space exploration returned to Earth using parachutes to slow their descent. In this experiment you create a variety of parachutes and test them.

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