Hidden Figures: Build Your Own Apollo 13 Space Capsule!

Hidden Figures: Build Your Own Apollo 13 Space Capsule!

Materials: Plastic Shopping Bags or Coffee Filters, Aluminum Foil, Tape, String, Scissors, & Timer ; Links to assist: Counting on Katherine



  1. Mentors will begin the lesson by sharing with students that February is Black History Month. Ask students if they know what this month is and explain to students that February serves as a time to recognize the great things African American figures have achieved and their roles in U.S history.
  2. Next, share with students that today we will be talking about Katherine Johnson. Feel free to pull up a photo of her to show students. Make sure to give students a bit of background regarding who Katherine Johnson is. Example: “Today we will be talking about Katherine Johnson. Katherine Johnson was a female African American mathematician who worked for NASA. She discovered and calculated the paths that the Apollo 13 spacecraft needed to take so they could safely land on the Moon.”
  3. Once the students you have had this quick discussion regarding Black History Month and who Katherine Johnson was, show the students the read-aloud video.
  4. When the video is complete, mentors will then tell the students that today they get to create their very own model of the Apollo 13. Divide the students into groups of 2-3 and give them roughly 10 minutes to make a plan. Tell students that their Apollo 13 model must have a way to slow down/ land—like a parachute!
  5. After students have had time to make a plan, mentors will give them all the materials needed to create their Apollo 13 model. Give them roughly 10-15 minutes to create it.
  6. Once the students have wrapped up with their models, allow each group to go up in front of the class and test out their models. Students can stand on a chair (for safety reasons, mentors can be the ones to do this if needed) and drop their Apollo 13 model to the ground. Using a timer, mentors will track how long each Apollo 13 model takes until it reaches the ground.
  7. Have students share what they thought worked best with their model and what they thought didn’t work out with the model.

    Download activity here


Grade Range: 3rd-6th


Time: 40 minutes


Synopsis: Mentors will show the read-aloud video of the book Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13. Then, mentors will allow students to design and create their very own model of the Apollo 13 and, as a class, everyone will test out their models and see which was most successful.