rover with sun in the background

Make a Cardboard Rover

Create your own design!

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Rovers are a kind of car-like spacecraft that NASA uses to explore the surfaces of other worlds! So far, rovers have gone to Mars and the Moon—and one day, they might go even farther. NASA plans to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024. These astronauts could use rovers to drive across the Moon’s surface, carry supplies and explore the area.

In this challenge, you will build your own rubber-band-powered rover that can scramble across the room. Build your rover out of cardboard, figure out how to use rubber bands to spin the wheels and use the engineering design process to improve your rover based on testing results.

Cardboard and other materials needed for the rover

1 6-inch (15-cm) square of corrugated cardboard for the body of the rover
2 5-inch (13-cm) pieces of corrugated cardboard for the wheels
1 sharpened cylindrical pencil
2 rubber bands
2 pieces of round hard candy with a hole in the middle
1 plastic drinking straw

*Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the materials. Get creative and substitute materials with what you have! It’s all part of the design process.

1. Brainstorm
Take a close look at this prototype of a rover like the one you are going to build. Prototypes are used all the time in engineering. They give you a basic design from which to build, test and evaluate. Improving a design based on testing is part of the engineering design process.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do you have to do to make the rover move?
How do you think square wheels affect how the rover moves across the floor?
How can you make improvements to the wheels?

Demonstration of Cardboard Folds to begin mars rover build

2. Make the rover body
Fold the cardboard into thirds along – not across – the corrugation (the open veins inside the piece of cardboard), pushing up the sides of the rover body to form a trench. Each section will be about 2 inches (5 cm) across.

Demonstration of Marking & Measuring cardboard to build rover

3. Make the front wheels
On the two 5-inch (13-cm) cardboard squares, draw diagonal lines from each of the corners, forming an “X”. Poke a small hole in the center with a pencil, where the lines cross.

Important! Avoid accidentally poking yourself with the pencil. Keep your hands away from where the pencil will go through the cardboard.

Adding pencils as axels for model rover wheels

4. Attach the rear axle and wheels
Use a pencil to carefully poke a hole near the top of each of the two outermost sections on the rover body. Again, keep your hands away from where the pencil will go through the cardboard. Make sure the holes are directly across from each other and are big enough for the pencil to spin freely. This is where your axle will go.
Slide the pencil through the axle holes. Carefully slide the cardboard wheels onto each end of the pencil and secure them with tape.

Cardboard model Mars rover

5. Make the front axle and wheels
Tape the straw across the bottom of the rover body on the opposite side from the pencil. Slip a candy onto each end of the straw. Bend and tape the ends of the axle to stop the candies from coming off.

Adding rubber band chain to model mars rover

6. Make a rubber-band chain
Create a chain with the two rubber bands as shown in the image above.

7. Attach the rubber band
Loop one end of the rubber band chain around the pencil, as shown in the image. Cut small slits into the front end of the rover body. Slide the free end of the rubber band chain into the slits.

8. Ready, set …
Turn the back wheels to wind the rubber band around the axle and power up your rover.

Model Cardboard Rover, test driving

9. Put your rover to the test
With the rover on the floor, let go! Observe what the rover does. Measure the distance it traveled.

10. Evaluate the design
Think about how your rover performed and what could be improved. Ask yourself these questions:
Did the wheels turn freely?
Did the rover travel in a straight line?
How far did it go?
Did the wheels spin out without the rover moving much, or did they have traction on the ground and cause the rover to move?

11. Redesign
Make changes to your rover to improve its performance.

12. Test it again
After you’ve made changes, test your rover to see if the improvements worked!

cardboard and pencil rover example