Build your own model of the Apollo Lunar Lander for STEM in honor of renowned African American mathematician Katherine Johnson. Katherine Johnson’s calculations were critical to the success of the Apollo lunar landings. Find out how to make your own model of the Apollo Lunar Lander from simple supplies, and learn a few facts about the amazing Katherine Johnson. We love fun, hands-on STEM projects for kids!

Apollo Lunar Lander

A lunar lander or moon lander is a spacecraft that is built specifically to land on the moon.

The Apollo Lunar Module was the lander spacecraft that was flown between lunar orbit and the Moon’s surface during the U.S. Apollo program. It made six lunar landings from 1969 to 1972 during the United States’ Apollo Program.

It was the first spacecraft crewed with humans, that operated exclusively in space, and remains the only crewed vehicle to land anywhere beyond Earth.

Part of the Apollo Lunar lander was left behind at each landing site on the moon. It is the lower half of the Lunar Module, called the descent stage. It carried most of the astronauts’ supplies and served as the launchpad for their return trip to the Command and Service Module in orbit around the Moon.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a telescope powerful enough to see the lunar lander on the moon. That’s because the moon is too far away from earth!

Katherine Johnson Fun Facts

Who is Katherine Johnson? Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose calculations as a NASA employee were vital to the success of the first and following U.S. crewed spaceflights. Johnson was born in 1918 in West Virginia. She died on Feb. 24, 2020 at 101 years old.

Johnson showed early aptitude for mathematics, and at age 10 she started high school. In 1939, she became one of three African-American students, and the only woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University.

During her 33-year career at NASA , she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. Her calculations helped sync the Apollo 11 lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module to get the astronauts back to Earth.

Johnson worked as a “human computer” because there were no computers in the 1950’s. While significant racial and gender barriers were there during her career, she ignored them.

Katherine Johnson’s influence as a pioneer in space science and computing is demonstrated by the many honors and awards she received, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her life stands as a role model and inspiration for others.

Also learn about African American mathematician, Evelyn Boyd Granville.

What Is STEM For Kids?

So you might ask, what does STEM actually stand for? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The most important thing you can take away from this, is that STEM is for everyone!

Yes, kids of all ages can work on STEM projects and enjoy STEM lessons. STEM activities are great for group work, too! You can read more about the valuable life lessons that STEM can provide kids here.

STEM is everywhere! Just look around.  The simple fact that STEM surrounds us is why it’s so important for kids to be a part of, use, and understand STEM.

From the buildings you see in town, the bridges that connect places, the computers we use, the software programs that go with them, and to the air we breathe, STEM is what makes it all possible.

Interested in STEM plus ART? Check out all our STEAM Activities!

Engineering is an important part of STEM. What is engineering in kindergarten and elementary?  Well, it’s putting together simple structures and other items and learning about the science behind them in the process. Essentially, it’s a whole lot of doing! 

Set Up Your Own Real-World STEM Project

Check out how your kids can learn how to look around their home, school, or community and put their STEM skills to the test with our Real World STEM Project Guide.

Helpful STEM Resources To Get You Started

Here are a few resources to help you introduce STEM more effectively to your kiddos or students and feel confident when presenting materials. You’ll find helpful free printables throughout.

Get Your FREE Printable Lunar Lander Project!

Build A Lunar Lander

Note: You can provide a variety of materials and encourage your kids to come up with their own take on how to build a lunar lander. Below is a sample model!


  • 2 small paper cups
  • 2 Pipe cleaners
  • Small caps
  • Glue
  • Tea candle
  • (optional)


STEP 1: Glue two small paper cups on top of each other, open ends together.

STEP 2: Poke a hole in four sides of the bottom cup. Then wrap two pieces of pipe cleaner together and poke through the cup and out the other side.

STEP 3: Repeat with the second pipe cleaner so you have four ‘legs’ coming out of the cup.

STEP 4: Glue the bottom of the pipe cleaners into the small caps.

STEP 5: Bend the tea light candle holder into the shape of a radar dish and mount to the top of your lander.

Finished Lunar lander Model

More Fun Space Activities

Pair this lunar lander project with more easy hands-on space activities for kids.

Study moon phases and create your own hands-on activity.

Make a solar system diorama.

Build a space shuttle from simple supplies.

Build a satellite and learn a bit about a scientist, Evelyn Boyd Granville.

Make a DIY spectroscope that scientists use to study space.

Build a model of the Aquarius Reef Base.

Printable Space Projects Pack

With 250+ pages of hands-on fun space-themed fun, you can easily explore classic space themes with your kiddos, including moon phases, constellations, the solar system, and of course the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing with Neil Armstrong.