From the Plains to The Planets

Young Rocketeers Look to Launch Their Futures from Great Meadow

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson, National Association of Rocketry

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

“These students will be designing the rockets that will take us to Mars and beyond.” Eric Fanning

It wasn’t the sound of hoofbeats that drew 100 teams of highly focused kids from 41 states to the Great Meadow’s 250-acre field events center in the Plains this May. From rocket clubs, STEM clubs, Boy and Girl Combined Scout troops, high schools, middle schools, soccer clubs, youth groups, career centers, and ambitiously named “Starbases” from Los Alamitos to Louisiana, ambitious future rocketeers transformed the bucolic meadow into a spaceport.

It was the 20th Annual American Rocketry Challenge (https://www.nar.org/team-america/), the world’s largest student rocketry competition, sponsored by the Aerospace Industry Association, the National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry partners. Importantly, it’s also the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) – one singled out for its ability to attract girls and minorities. The latter goal was made even more tangible by the upcoming launch of the Artemis 1 mission which aims to put the first woman and person of color on the Moon (now targeted for late August).

Recent decisions by aerospace giants Boeing and Rocketdyne to move their headquarters to Arlington added a special crackle in the air as sponsors wearing their logoed garb moved through the crowd, alongside recruiters from the NASA Student Launch program. Without a hint of hyperbole, Eric Fanning, AIA President and CEO said, “These students will be designing the rockets that will take us to Mars and beyond.”

Besides their ultimate dream of playing a role in those missions, finalists competed for $100,000 in prizes and the title of National Champion, which includes an all-expense paid trip to London for the International Finals. This year’s winner was Newport High School Team 2 of Bellevue, Washington, in its 14th year competing.

To qualify, teams were required to build and launch a model rocket (650 millimeters or more in length using NAR-certified model rocket motors totaling 80 N-sec or less of total impulse), that safely carries a payload of two raw eggs with a target flight duration of 41-44 seconds and altitude of 835 feet. Then, to select a champion, rules for the National Finals are slightly modified to challenge the teams, requiring they launch payload of one Grade A Large egg for a flight duration of 42-45 seconds, to an altitude of exactly 850 feet (measured by an onboard altimeter), and that then returns the egg to earth safely, without cracking it.

As Carl Curling, the National Association of Rocketry mentor for the nearby Woodbridge Combined Scout Rocket Team explains it, “It’s like golf. You get a point for every degree of altitude that you miss the target parameters, and the lowest score wins, plus there’s a duration component.” He advised three teams of 5-6 kids, one of which, “Alpha” made the finals. To start a rocket club and obtain a NAR mentor, you have only to ask.

Links to get you started: 

The American Rocketry Challenge: https://rocketcontest.org/; The National Association of Rocketry: nar.org/; AIA: aia-aerospace.org/; and NASA's Student Launch Program: nasa.gov/stem-ed-resources/student-launch.html

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