Background Info

Anything that is built must first be engineered, or planned out. An engineer is a person who designs and builds complex products, machines, systems, or structures. Engineers want to know how and why things work. They have scientific training that they use to make practical things. Engineers often specialize in a specific branch of engineering. The field of engineering is divided into branches such as civil, electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering. Many types of engineering must be performed to design and build a complicated system such as a spacecraft. For example, a spacecraft has electrical, mechanical, and propulsion systems. All those different systems must be designed before the whole spacecraft can work. The engineering design process is a series of steps that engineers use to guide them as they solve problems. During the design process, engineers:

  • Identify the problem or challenge.
  • Identify design requirements and limitations on the design due to available resources and the environment.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem or challenge.
  • Generate ideas and develop the most promising ones.
  • Explore possibilities and the pros and cons of each.
  • Select an approach by identifying the design that appears to solve the problem best.
  • Build a model or prototype.
  • Refine the design by identifying changes that need to be made and improving the model or prototype.

Questions

1. 

What is an engineer?

Show Answer

Engineers are people who design and build the things we use every day.

2. 

How do engineers decide what they need to build?

Show Answer

They start with a question, generate ideas for ways to solve the problem, pick several that make sense, and then start drawing a plan.

3. 

What are the characteristics of a good engineering plan?

Show Answer

A good plan helps engineers focus on what they're making and why.

4. 

Why is experimentation important for engineers?

Show Answer

It's during experimentation that engineers learn what works and what does not.

5. 

What does the narrator mean when he says that it's good for engineers when things don't work in the first trial?

Show Answer

Failure gives engineers a chance to go back and improve on their original idea until they solve the problem.

For Further Exploration

Credits

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Editor

Christina Riska, National Geographic Society

Educator Reviewer

Dianne Koval Butler, Manager, Education Outreach & Partnerships, Lockheed Martin Corporate Communications

Expert Reviewer

Buddy Nelson, Media Relations, Lockheed Martin Space Systems

National Geographic Program

Wildest Weather in the Solar System

Page Producer

Jason Wasser

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