Led by science teacher Mary Belliston, seventh grader Mac Johnson, 10th graders Hunter Davis and Quin Stewartare headed to Washington, D.C., to compete in the world's largest student rocket contest on May 11.
The team was created by 16-year-old Viewmont High student Hunter Davis when he was a ninth-grader at Centerville Junior High. Hunter had been building rockets with his dad since he was small. As Hunter grew, so did his fascination with rockets. Hunter's dad read about the rocketry challenge and shared his discovery with his son. Last year, Hunter and two of his schoolmates, under the direction of Belliston, attempted to earn a spot on the national team. Their efforts were thwarted when one of the eggs carried by their rocket broke, eliminating them from the competition.
Not one to let a cracked egg stand in the way of his dreams, Hunter worked to put together a new team and this year they made it through the preliminaries.
Criteria for the launch is to send a rocket exactly 750 feet up in the air and return to the ground in a 48- to 50-second window. The rocket launches at approximately 125 miles per hour and comes down at 11 to 17 miles per hour. Any variation in regulation deducts points from the team score. A cracked egg is immediate disqualification.
The team is required to build the rockets on their own and may use parents and teachers only as consultants.
Belliston is proud of her students.
"It's super exciting and the challenge is lots of fun," she said.
The students began meeting in September working to qualify for nationals.
"If they do well, which of course we hope they will, there are lots of scholarships available," Belliston said.
The 10 top teams will win more than $60,000 in scholarships and a chance to participate in NASA's prestigious Student Launch Initiative. Additionally, winners of the national competition go on to an international competition in Paris.
Hunter has enjoyed the challenges required for the competition. The team has learned through trial-and-error and launches to collect data and make changes.
"Before the qualifying launches, we did several preliminary launches and looked at the science behind them," Hunter said. Hunter's favorite part of the science is launching the completed rocket, his least favorite is "when one of those rockets we've spent hours building crashes on its first launch."
Thirteen-year-old Mac, the youngest on the team, started building rockets with his dad when he was 9 and jumped at the opportunity to be part of the team.
"Figuring out how to get all the weight, timing and speed right and not having your egg break" is the thrill for Mac. His biggest challenge is when his older, more experienced teammates discuss science he hasn't learned, but that doesn't deter him.
"I just ask lots of questions," he said.
Initially the team's goal was to make it to the nationals, now their goal is to win them. The team has set up a Facebook page with updates on their progress.
At a glance
Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is in its 11th years of competition.
TARC's goal is to attract the next generation of engineers and technicians to join the aerospace industry.
Each year, hundreds of students compete in teams made up of three to 10 people design build and fly a rocket. The rules of the challenge change a little each year.
This year the challenge requires the students to fly with an egg lying horizontally, which makes the egg much more vulnerable to cracking.