Gas station without pumps

2012 August 1

NASA yanks paper “rocket” activity

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 08:28
Tags: , ,

I just saw this announcement


Recently, an air pressurized paper rocket launcher being used by an educator failed. This launcher is described in NASA’s Rockets Educator Guide, publications EG-2011-11-223-KSC, pp. 86-90 and EG-2008-05-060-KSC, pp. 86-90. NASA completed an engineering investigation into the failure and determined that the launcher, or design equivalents, should not be used. NASA has removed the launcher design from its website and its education curriculum. Individuals and organizations should immediately discontinue use of the launcher published in the referenced NASA publications. The point of contact for additional information is James Stofan, Deputy Associate Administrator for Education Integration at We request that your organization assist NASA in disseminating this information as widely as possible throughout the education community.

via NASA – Central Operation of Resources for Educators.

The activity they yanked is no longer on their website, so it is a little hard to figure out what the problem was.  Keith Cowling, at NASA Watch , pulled the document off of the WayBack archive.  There is not much information in that document, but it seems to be the same sort of system used at Maker Faire and similar to the design of the foam-dart gun the robotics club is building.  So I’d like to know what the hazard is, and whether it is large enough to stop or modify the activity in the robotics club.

So far as I’ve been able to tell, no details of the “engineering investigation” have been released, so I can’t tell if there is a real hazard (beyond the obvious ones of overpressurizing PVC pipe or shooting projectiles) or if this is simply lawyers playing “any risk is too big”.

I will be sending James Stofan a request for a copy of that engineering evaluation.


  1. I do have a copy of the document, and looking at the design, it is nothing more than a PVC launcher; with all the inherent dangers that PVC launchers have.

    I have never built their particular design, but I have built some of my own designs. I always perform safety checks and I’ve never had an issue; but like anything, one should always use caution, it is the nature of the beast.

    I would, however, like to see the NASA report, as well.

    Comment by James Grant — 2012 September 24 @ 12:13 | Reply

    • That’s what I saw in the design also.

      I saw two major hazards:

      1. blocking the tube and overpressuring until the PVC tubes explode
      2. shooting rockets at people (particularly at people’s faces

      The first problem is very unlikely with a manual bike pump, but could happen with an overpowered compressor that lacks proper pressure regulations.
      The second is a supervision problem rather than an inherent problem in the design.

      I suspect that someone playing around inappropriately shot some some other kid in the eye and the vulture lawyer went after NASA. Rather than fight it properly, a spineless risk manager at NASA agreed to pull the resources off the web. Now NASA is embarrassed to admit that their risk managers are such terrible lawyers that they back down from every nuisance lawsuit brought against NASA, which is why no one has seen this mythical engineering evaluation. I bet that the “evaluation” was done by an incompetent risk manager, rather than by an engineer.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 September 24 @ 16:56 | Reply

  2. […] a previous post, I had groused about NASA removing plans for a common compressed-air launcher from their […]

    Pingback by NASA releases reasons for removing paper rocket activity « Gas station without pumps — 2012 October 14 @ 10:37 | Reply

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