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STEM Activity: Water Balloon Parachutes

The first Friday in August is National Water Balloon Day! Celebrate by NOT making a splash when you design a parachute that will allow a water balloon to land without bursting.


Materials Needed 

  • Plastic bag or disposable tablecloth
  • Scissors
  • String or yarn
  • Tape
  • Water balloons


Step-by-Step Instructions 

  1. Fill up those water balloons as much as possible. The bigger they are, the greater the challenge!
  2. Tie off each balloon and then tie a piece of string to the knot of the balloon.
  3. Build a parachute using a sturdy, lightweight material such as a plastic bag or a piece of a disposable tablecloth, or whatever else you can find around your home.
  4. Attach your parachute to the water balloon using string and tape. Tip: Tie the string or yarn of your parachute to the knot at the end of the water balloon.
  5. Find a high place where it is safe for you to stand, such as a slide, treehouse or balcony. Make sure no one walks under your experiment area, unless they would like to get splashed.

    If you don’t have a safe place to stand, simply hold your water balloon and parachute together, and throw them in the air as high as you can.
  6. Launch your water balloon parachute and observe what happens.
    • Did the water balloon break?
    • Did the parachute stay attached?
    • Did the parachute open?
    • Were you successful on your first try?
    • How quickly did the water balloon fall?
  7. Continue experimenting with different materials, shapes and sizes for your parachute, as well as different-sized water balloons.


What Are We Discovering? 

Trapeze artist turned inventor, Floyd Smith, designed the modern parachute. Previous parachute designs were attached by a static line directly to the plane. Smith’s parachute, however, allowed the jumper to manually open the chute using a ripcord. Smith’s parachute design both set the standard for decades to come and jump-started the entire parachute industry.

Air resistance pushes a parachute upward while gravity pushes a parachute downward. With greater air resistance, such as a strong wind, the parachute stays up longer. The heavier the object is that is attached to the parachute, the stronger the downward pull of gravity. Using these physics principles, you can experiment with your parachute shape, materials and size, and the weight of the object attached to it.


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