May, 15, 2009 — Science teacher Steve Bullock said, if it was a NASA rocket launch, it would have been scrapped due to wind and rain. But the weather did not stop the St. Croix rocketeers.
Science and meteorology students from Elena Christian Junior High School, who have been working on a rocket project over the past three months, just took a break Friday, had lunch and waited until conditions were drier, and the launch went off.
"The engines are very sensitive to water," said Bullock. "They are useless when wet."
At launch time it started to pour at the Schang Ball Field in Estate St. John. The scene was more Caribbean than NASA with a herd of goats grazing near the launch site.
But the students had a goal. The students and their teacher wanted to be the first school in the territory to compete in the annual Team America Rocket Challenge in Virginia, the largest contest of its kind in the country. To compete, the students must build a homemade rocket using mostly non-commercial materials and launch it with a raw egg as the payload.
The rocket must fly or stay airborne for at least 45 seconds and attain an altitude of at least 750 feet. The egg must be returned to earth unbroken.
Students, mostly girls, from Bullock's eighth grade science and meteorology class at Elena Christian built the rockets.
Eighth grader Daria McFarlande, the engine technician, said the most exciting part was learning how the rocket works.
"I choose the engine size to fit the rocket size," said McFarlande as she readied the engines.
Each year, 100 schools from across the nation are selected to compete in the challenge, and $60,000 in prizes and scholarships are up for grabs in the annual competition.
Each school is responsible for conducting preliminary and practice launches of their rockets. An official from the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) must verify that each school has met the minimum requirements to qualify to enter the competition.
The official usually visits each school to observe the qualifying launch.
The students at Elena have conducted two launches to date and have met one of the three requirements. On Thursday, the students launched two rockets, and one carried a raw egg which was returned to earth unbroken. The rocket soared to a height of about 600 feet and stayed aloft for about 25 seconds.
Bullock considers Thursdays rocket launch a success.
"Definitely, it was a big improvement over the previous launch last month, when both rockets went off course and crash landed before the parachutes deployed," he said.
"Returning the egg to earth unbroken is a big achievement," he added. "Now, we have to work on keeping the rocket in the air for a little longer and reaching to the 750 feet altitude requirement."
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