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The Science of "Rocket Science"



The Science of "Rocket Science"
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 7
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.39

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    combust, liftoff, multistage, nitroglycerine, oxidant, oxidizers, payload, solid-fuel, propulsion, ignition, spacecraft, component, velocity, propellants, ignite, hydrogen
     content words:    Third Law


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The Science of "Rocket Science"
By Trista L. Pollard
  

1     Today's space stations are yesterday's science fiction settings. Who would have thought that rockets would routinely leave our planet traveling towards space at great speed? In the news, we hear about astronauts from different countries traveling to space and working together to make the world's first space station successful. Our science fiction is now science fact. So, what do "rocket scientists" do all day? Let's begin our study with rockets.
 
2     Rockets, vehicles that are propelled by the ejection of gases, are moved by rocket propulsion. In fact, two of the most important elements in designing rockets are the propulsion system and the number of stages needed to lift the payload of the rocket. Rocket propulsion is the force that provides thrust for the rocket during liftoff. The rocket's thrust is expressed in pounds. Its thrust must be equal to at least the weight of the rocket. For example, a rocket that weighs 90,000 kilograms (200,000 pounds) must be lifted by a thrust of over 200,000 pounds. In space it will need less thrust because there is not a force of gravity acting on the rocket.
 
3     A rocket's propulsion system includes the propellant and the exit nozzle. Propellants are substances that contain oxidizers which combine oxygen with the fuel, the second part of the propellant. The propellant can make up 90% to 95% of the rocket's total weight. Today, most propellants are liquefied gases and solid explosives. The main engines of our space shuttles use liquid propellants; the boosters on the sides of the space shuttle are solid-fuel rockets. Most liquid engines use hydrogen as the fuel and oxygen as the oxidant, and nitroglycerine is used as the solid propellant. The fuel and the oxygen are stored separately at low temperatures in liquid engines; in solid engines they are combined and loaded into the combustion chamber.

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