Duct tape – cloth- or scrim-backed pressure-sensitive tape often coated with polyethylene. There are a variety of constructions using different backings and adhesives.

  • gaffer tape designed to be cleanly removed
  • heat-resistant duct tape useful for sealing heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) ducts, produced because standard duct tape fails quickly when used on heating ducts.

In 1942 Revolite, then a division of Johnson & Johnson, originally developed an adhesive tape made from a rubber-based adhesive applied to a durable duck cloth backing. This tape resisted water and was used as sealing tape on ammunition cases during World War II.

Duct tape is a strong tape that is composed of three layers. The top layer is a resilient plastic (Polyethelyne). The bottom layer is a rubber-based adhesive. The middle layer is a fabric mesh. While there are stronger tapes (like filament tape), duct tape, when doubled over onto itself can pull a 2000 lb. car out of a ditch, and has the distinct benefit of not requiring any other tools to cut it – you just rip it with your bare hands.

Duct tape is used for lots of repairs and construction projects. These include but are not limited to splinting a broken leg of a pet duck, making a prom dress, fixing dentures, making functional cardboard boats and paddles, extending a snow brush to reach a satellite dish, car repairs of all sorts, making Christmas stockings and wallets, as well as installing and joining heating ducts.

Lunar lander with spare maps, clamps, and a grey strip of “duct tape” 1972

What’s the problem?
Duct tape on the Moon – On the lunar surface in December 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan needed to repair one of the lunar rover’s fenders in an effort to keep the “rooster tails” of dust away from themselves and their gear. This picture reveals the wheel and fender of their dust covered rover along with the ingenious application of spare maps, clamps, and a grey strip of “duct tape”. You can clearly see the duct tape above the wheel.

  • Ask – The moon dust being stirred up by the lunar rover’s wheels was causing problems. How could this be reduced?
  • Imagine – The astronauts didn’t bring much with them, so they didn’t have much to work with. What could they make with what they had – maps, clamps and duct tape?
  • Plan, Create – What sort of fender could they make? How was it attached? Did it reduce the dust reaching the instruments?
  • Improve – What design changes could be make to the lunar rover to prevent this dust problem?

That’s engineering

  • adhesive – a compound that adheres or bonds two items together. A mixture of ingredients (typically polymers) dissolved in a solvent. Glues and rubber cements are members of the drying adhesive family. As the solvent evaporates, the adhesive hardens. Depending on the chemical composition of the adhesive, they will adhere to different materials to greater or lesser degrees. These adhesives are typically weak and are used for household applications.

Engineering ideas

  • innovation, resourcefulness, problem-solving, design process, polyethylene, adhesive,

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • suggest your own design for solving the lunar rover dust problem? What materials could you use to make it on the moon? What other uses would these materials have to minimize bringing extra weight?

Learn more…

  • Duct Tape 101 – answers frequently asked questions
  • Duct tape, originally known as duck tape, is a strong, fabric-based, multi-purpose adhesive tape, with a rubber-based adhesive to help the tape resist water and a fabric backing to facilitate ripping.