How many cups of sugar would it take to get to the moon? — Jacob P., age 4.5
I’m going to be upfront here: I chose this particular question because I thought it would be kind of fun to troll some rocket scientists. I figured that asking them this question would be like asking a bunch of engineers about the number of cats that would be required to build the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
So you can imagine my surprise when Mason Peck, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, started cheerfully telling me about the sugar-based fuel used to launch homemade rockets. “There are lots of amateur rocketry people around the world that are interested in wacky propellants,” Peck told me. “Anything with some kind of hydrocarbon in it works pretty well. So obviously sugar would work. Pepperoni works, and it smells delicious by the way.” Yes, seriously.
I strongly recommend diving into this article. It is fun, informative, and humbling if you were not a 4.5 year old with such a great question. And I always enjoy a good Maggie Koerth-Baker drafted science article.