Students aim for sky-high goal

Rockets: Two teams of Howard County students are designing model rockets they hope will launch them into the finals of a national competition.


March 03, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Under a bright, sunny sky, a miniature rocket is poised for liftoff in a grassy field at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

"Five, four, three, two, one ... " counts down Kevin Johnson, a member of the National Association of Rocketry, before he flips a switch.

Seconds later, a 28 1/2 -inch rocket ascends with flames shooting from its tail.

After reaching about 1,200 feet, a red parachute appears and floats gracefully near a running track about 100 yards away.

Back on the ground, eight excited students of Howard County public schools' Technology Magnet Energy Power and Transportation Program jump up and down, giving one another high-fives.

"That was a good launch," said 10th-grader Matt Hoffman, 15.

"It was great," added Brandon Boor, 16, who is in the 11th grade.

"That was awesome," said Bhaumin Vyas, 16, another 11th-grader.

The students held the practice launch as participants in the 2004 Team America Rocketry Challenge, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and NAR.

The contest is billed as the "world's largest model rocket contest." Participants are required to design, build and test a model rocket that can fly as close as possible to 1,250 feet, carrying a payload of two raw eggs unbroken back to the ground.

More than 7,000 students representing 600 teams across the nation are vying to be among the top 100 teams of middle- and high-schoolers to compete in the finals May 22 at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va.

Finalists will be announced April 15. The 10 top-scoring teams will share a prize pool of $50,000 in cash and savings bonds.

Since last fall, Bob Hawthorne, a teacher at the school system's Applications & Research Laboratory in Ellicott City, has been supervising two teams comprising 13 students.

Twice a week, RAVEN (Rocketry and Vertical ExploratioN) and R.A.M.R.O.D. (Research, Aerodynamics, Manufacturing and Research through Organized Design) rocketry teams meet at the lab to strategize about how to build the best rockets.

Those meetings entail building - and sometimes rebuilding - their rockets, studying software to improve their designs and conferring with Hawthorne and Johnson, a mentor for the students.

During the teams' Feb. 25 meeting, Room A10 at the lab was abuzz with excitement as students sanded and glued parts for their rockets and received pep talks from Hawthorne and Johnson.

Joe Czaplicki, 17, a senior, said watching a rocket launch is exciting.

"When you first see a rocket launch, there's stillness, then movement. You see this brilliant orange flame, and you feel all this excitement," he recalled.

His team, RAVEN, made it to the finals last year and is hoping to improve its design to win this year.

During last year's contest, one of RAVEN's rocket engines fired in the wrong direction, causing the rocket to go sideways, said Conn Dickson, 17, a senior and RAVEN team leader.

This year, the team is doing things differently by building a lighter rocket.

"It's a much simpler design," Conn said. "We hope that it will go up higher. Last year, we got to 1,015 feet."

Jonathan McCoy, team leader of R.A.M.R.O.D., said the contest is a "new experience and an opportunity I wanted to expand on after designing my own rocket in my mechanical systems class." Jonathan said one of the difficulties his team encountered was incorporating everyone's ideas into a rocket design.

"It took two weeks to get everyone to agree," he said.

Rejuny Reddin, the only girl among the teams, said it is fun participating in the contest. "I don't feel left out. I want to be a civil engineer, designing buildings for cities," she said.

Johnson said his role is to keep students from "reinventing the wheel" as they design their rockets and make sure they follow safety standards.

"It's great watching them come together as teams," he said. "They're doing all the work, tweaking their own designs."

Hawthorne said he is impressed with his students.

"I'm very proud of them. They are going through a marvelous learning experience, and they're winners by participating," he said. "And both teams have an excellent chance of making the finals."

During the practice launch at Centennial High School, Brandon's dad, Brian Boor, said the students were gaining valuable lessons by participating in the contest.

"It builds team-building and project management and leadership skills," he said.

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