For my daughter's 9th birthday party she wanted to be an astronaut! So of course I set my crafty sights on constructing a shuttle for her.
Step 1: Materials
1. CARDBOARD! Lots of it. Lucky for me, that week we had gotten a bunch of very large flatscreens at work for the monitoring of our transmitters. You can contact local warehouses to see if they can give you their boxes. I also saved empty wrapping paper tubes to use as support beams but you could fashion them yourself out of cardboard too. Black bristol-board.
2. A ton of white craft paint and also black. Large and small brushes.
3. Dollar store lights or tap lights. Various electronics junk...maybe you have an old computer laying around? You can take out the guts and use them inside the ship for fancy 'electrical' panels. Note: you will NOT be powering up these things as it's just for show!
4. Large roll of packing tape
computer monitor and laptop for running missions, soldering iron if you have experience using it to add some cool switches in your panels (more on that later), a few boxes of aluminum foil for making asteroids, at least two accomplices for the 'mission'
Step 2: Basic Shape of the Shuttle
I wish I had taken more photos of actual construction for this part, but I was a bit pressed for time to get the ship ready for the big launch/birthday party. I made the back piece first as a guide for the body of the ship. I laid the rest of the cardboard down and taped it together to make a huge rectangular piece that would fold upwards to create the basic shape. The back piece was kind of a house shape with a flat top like in the drawing.
I had my helper hold that piece up so I could tape it to the back of the large rectangle I had made. I folded each side up and around the back piece and marked where a new fold would be needed. Then lay the body down again to properly fold it. I used a metal ruler to gently score where the fold needed to be. This is a big help in getting your folds straight.
Once all the folds were done, I brought the sides up and taped them in place to the back. At this stage, the front of the ship has no support and wants to sort of cave in a bit in the front. I cut a slit all the way down in one wrapping paper roll and inserted another tube into it to re-enforce it. If you don't have any empty wrapping paper tubes laying around, you can build supports with cardboard, folding it into a long rectangular tube-thing. Tape it to the floor at the front sides and then to the top of the inside of the ship for support.
Draw out some back wing flaps on cardboard and lay them just under the back and tape in place like in the photo. Don't forget the small wing at the top back. I made rocket exhausts out of black bristol board. Just wrap them in a cone shape and tape them together. I then cut off the excess until I had the shape I wanted, and taped them to the back of the ship.
Step 3: Interior
I had access to a large plotter at work so I was able to print out huge pictures of the panels of the actual space shuttle. These images are all available online. If you just have a regular printer like most folks, you can print them out in panels and tape them together to form one large one.
Inside the nose of the ship I taped in the panels I printed out, as well as some for the sides for visual interest. You can make or use small rectangular boxes like sneaker boxes and insert old switches and run a few wires here and there. Also you can glue tap lights to the panel (be sure the batteries are in it first!) so the kids can tap power on!
I saved the Styrofoam pieces from the TV boxes so I used them in the nose for control panels and stands.
Paint anything inside the ship that is not decorated in black. I also had some old bubble wrap and I glued that to the inside as well.
Step 4: Exterior
For the outside of the ship I looked at photos of the space shuttle and painted accordingly. I also printed out a few things that I wanted to be more realistic like the NASA logo and the Canadian and American flags. Start by painting the whole ship white except for the back and the front nose. The nose goes black and the back goes black as well.
I cut a door in one side and used the handles from the TV boxes as door handles. If you don't have them, take about 10 strands of yarn a few feet log and tape the center of them, maybe 6 inches, in silver duct tape. Thread the un-taped yarn ends through the door and tie off on the inside to create a handle. You can also duct tape the yarn on the inside to hide it. Make it look like a riveted plate by putting for big dots in black sharpie at each corner of the tape.
Step 5: Extra Special Touches
I found a bunch of old key switches and fastened them to a cardboard box. I then ran wires from each of the switches to a bank of dollar store lights. I'm sorry I don't have any shots of that, but I built this project back in 2010 and posting my procedure for making it never crossed my mind!
I had wired it so that the only way to turn the overhead lights on was for ALL the keys to be in the same position. This way, the kids had to all turn their keys together to turn the ship 'on'.
I placed a monitor in the front of the ship and ran it's connecting cables to my laptop which was outside the ship. I also put my computer speakers on either side of the monitor and ran the wires through the nose of the ship also to my laptop.
I worked at Radio Canada International and our computer control room was quite impressive so I filmed myself in there in a lab-coat, and pretended to be at NASA launch control. The video I made was spliced together in this order:
1. Me in the control room welcoming the astronauts to the program and wishing them well in their mission.
2. Countdown I found on line
3. Loud boosters firing and lift-off
4. The opening scenes from the movie 'Contact' that showed a voyage through space. (this worked sooo well! There wasn't a peep out of the kids during this stage)
5. My cutting back into the feed with audio alarms going off in the background and me shouting "Meteor shower! Brace for Impact!"
The loot I bought from the NASA space store.
Step 6: The Mission Run
So here's how the mission was run...
I got all the kids into the ship (6 of them) and they sat in three rows two by two. They turned the switches and the lights came on. We went through a little checklist and then shut the overhead lights off to prepare for launch
After I shut them in, I had my two accomplices (my son and his friend) standing by. Then I hit play on my laptop video which was fed to the monitor inside the ship. I quickly moved to the back of the ship and put my hands on the sides at the back and waited.
At the sound of the rockets firing I began to shake the ship to simulate lifting off. I eased off the shaking until it finally tapered off, as I knew they were seeing themselves moving through deep space and seeing planets and stars. It was completely silent. The kids were mesmerized. IT WAS AWESOME!
Remember the aluminum foil we needed? We took sheets of it and made meteors out of it, some wrapped around wads of newspaper to get a bigger size. When I heard myself in the video yell "Meteor shower! Brace for impact!", that was the cue for the boys to hurl their fake meteors at the ship. Once it quieted down, I opened the door and welcomed the travelers home!
I lost track of how many 'missions' I ran that day but I had parents wanting to go in too!