Rocket Scientists Weigh in on the Best Space Toys for STEM

Ever wonder what aerospace engineers think are the best STEM toys? We did too, so we asked some of our employees to weigh in.

The Aerospace Corporation


With so many great STEM toys for kids, we decided to ask our employees at Aerospace for their recommendations this holiday season. We wanted to know what toys they loved, what their kids love, and what toys they wish they had growing up.

The responses were overwhelming. From building sets to model rockets to games that teach about coding principles, we’ve collected a list of toys that have captivated our employees and their kids.

Links are for reference — The Aerospace Corporation does not endorse any product or earn commission from the links below.

Building toys

Snap Circuits

Age: 8+

Snap Circuits are like Legos for electronics. They are modular and allow kids to explore a variety of circuit concepts. My 9-year-old particularly likes the Arcade kit which has many light and sound components.

Maribeth—Systems Director, Innovation, Science & Technology

A quick overview of Snap Circuits


Age: 3+

Magna-Tiles allowed the kids to build structures with square and triangle panels. Make sure to get the largest set you can, at least 100 pieces, we actually have three sets for upwards of 300 pieces. My kids loved to build buildings inside buildings, or really tall (3–4 ft tall) buildings.

Introducing Magna-Tiles

It’s hard not to delve into the physics of the toys but just let them play and experiment. When something falls down, let them figure out how to build it to achieve their objective — not yours.

Lisa—Senior Project Leader


Age: 3+

Lego is great whether you follow the directions or not. Without following directions, the sky is the limit when it comes to building creatively. When you do, the end result is quite detailed and fun to play with. It is also good for teaching kids to focus and think multi-dimensionally. Lego has continuously put out a steady stream of space-themed designs that are pretty hard to compete with.

James—Senior Project Engineer

LEGO NASA Space Shuttle, LEGO Ice-Sat V, and Star Wars Imperial TIE Fighter

The LEGO Ice-Sat V was the first ‘space’ set I had. It was an eight-wheeled truck with a cool orange canopy and a magnetic crane arm. It would carry a rocket around, and then set it up to launch a satellite into space! That particular set is long out-of-print, but LEGO continues to make many excellent space and STEM sets under several themes. And, of course, any set can be taken apart and built into anything else!

James—Project Engineer

Legos and Magformers are great toys that encourage free-form play and let children build their imagination while gently introducing the concepts of architecture, structure, design, and stability in building (tall skinny things tip over easily).

Guenever — Senior Project Engineer


Stomp Rockets

Age: 4+

The kids received their first stomp rockets when they were about four years old. They stayed in the car and were brought out every time we went to the park. Most sets are really inexpensive and you can adjust the trajectory angle to get distance or height.

Lisa—Senior Project Leader

Stomp Rockets!

Model Rockets

My kids had a great collection of building toys, but they were also given an introduction to model rocketry with Estes products, a great way to teach children about aerospace principles. Building kits are lots of fun because you can go as far as your imagination can take you.

The new Falcon 9 Model Rocket from Estes.

If the building sets have motors and gears, it’s a great way to teach mechanics. It’s always fun to have a day with model rockets in a science class at school, but there is so much that can be learned when children are given a building set and are simply told to “build something”.

Anthony—Senior Project Engineer



Age: 8+

My daughter loves playing with the Sphero robot balls that can be controlled and programmed with a cell phone. Learning about electronics and computer programming are important skills for anyone that wants to join the space industry when they grow up. There are toys that integrate this such as the OSMO (ages 3+), and Sphero BOLT.

Jennifer — Research Scientist

Hydrobot Arm Kit

Age: 12+

As a child growing up in India, I was enamored by the news of NASA pushing the frontiers of space and was always attracted to the activities around space. In school I did a study on the special robotic arm named CanadArm set up on the NASA shuttles. A second generation arm Canadarm2 was set up on the ISS later. I can say having a hydrobot robotic arm would have thrilled me when I was a child.

Vaishakhi—Director, Business Analytics

LEGO Mindstorms

Age: 10+

The Lego Robot Inventor kit is superb, as it has five different robot builds that kids can construct and program using Scratch, offering limitless possibilities to build and code their own creations.

George — Director, Astrodynamics Department


Video Games

I have learned a massive amount about space from the game Kerbal Space Program. It gives a feel for what’s involved with a space mission while you have fun, even through failures.

Christopher—Senior Engineering Specialist

Image credit:

Board Games

There are some great board games that teach coding concepts before children are old enough to program. Some board games work even for 4-year-olds.

Christopher—Senior Engineering Specialist

Laser and Laser Chess

Age: 8+

Laser is about understanding the properties of light; how you can change paths with mirrors and filters and transparent (or opaque) objects. My kid had hours playing with it and I also enjoy it myself.

Chess, with lasers!

Now, they have the same concept as a Chess board that will be added to my holiday gift list.

Eliana, Senior Technical Staff

STEM kits


Age: Kindergarten through 6th grade

My son loves both the Blue Planet and the Universe STEM kits from iSprowt. I like the kits because they are aligned around the same science standards used in the schools. My son likes them because they are fun and hands-on!

The Blue Planet Kit from iSprowt

With Blue Planet, he gets to launch a model rocket, build a 3D Saturn V rocket model, and discover all about water on Earth. With the Universe kit, he built and painted a 3D model of the solar system and also created his own constellation with glow-in-the-dark stars.

Rob—Director of Digital Transformation for Space Force


Age: varies by kit

The KiwiCo Glowing Double Pendulum

My kids have a KiwiCo subscription that they enjoy building every month — usually a big hit, the double pendulum was really popular (or maybe I did a good job of hyping up chaotic systems) and this last month they received an invisible ink kit that uses citric acid and a UV light source to reveal fluorescent acid in the paper.

Adam—Senior Project Engineer

Space Books

Our kids were avid readers when they were growing up, so books were their window into space. Each of these books inspires wonder while making space something that is real and approachable. Every kid should dream and feel in their hearts that they can follow that dream — these books make those dreams feel real.

In Man on the Moon (a day in the life of Bob), Bob flies to work on the moon every day, while in Winnie in Space, Winnie builds her own rocket using magic (too bad it’s not really that easy).

Man on the Moon, Winnie in Space, and Wonders of the Solar System

When our oldest was 4, they spotted a copy of Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System and with a little help, they got a lot out of it. For years, it remained a “go-to” book to explore everything from the moons of Jupiter to the atmosphere of Neptune.

John—Director, Performance Modeling and Analysis Department

Moonshot, an illustrated story of Apollo 11.

A fabulous book for kids is Moonshot by Brian Floca — a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Apollo 11 mission.

George — Director, Astrodynamics Department

Ask a Rocket Scientist is published by The Aerospace Corporation. Have a question you’d like answered? Add it to the comments!