Countdown to BLAST OFF
Kids from Portland are blasting off to Virginia to fly their rockets at the Team America Rocketry Challenge — the largest rocketry competition in the world.
Two teams from the Portland area will be competing in nationals on Saturday, May 12 at Great Meadow in Plains, Va., near Washington, D.C. Portland Rocketry and David Douglas High School will compete against each other, as well as 98 other teams of kid rocket scientists, all hoping their design can fly to the moon — well, to the sky, anyway.
"I'm really happy we made it to nationals because it's my first time doing so and we've gotten closer to reaching it every year," says Aseem Agarwal, a sophomore at Sunset High School who has been part of Portland Rocketry for three years and often helps new members contribute to the team.
"I'm also proud of how well everyone worked together, especially because we had four new members this year."
The competition will have two challenges, in which Portland Rocketry and David Douglas High will compete against teams from every other state. They must pass the first challenge to go on to the second. There will be a challenge to keep a real egg from breaking on their rocket, and timed challenges on getting their rocket to exactly 800 feet. Teams are penalized if the rocket goes just a bit too high or too low.
What makes up the rocket? The frame is made from a heavy cardboard tube; a real egg is placed in a tube for protection inside the rocket, and the egg has to remain intact during flight to prove stability, or the team faces disqualification. A nose cone makes it more aerodynamic, and there's a recovery system with a little parachute. Fins are on the bottom, and an ignitor is used to fire up the motor and blast off from the launch pad.
David Douglas High has a bit of an extra challenge — they will be one of the very first teams to compete early in the morning, when the air can be unpredictable. They also won't really have the chance to watch many other teams before them, giving them less intelligence about what conditions are like or problems the rockets are having.
To prepare for the Rocketry Challenge, the kids have been refining their rockets and taking notes on important details. They've also been working on their presentation, which will show the judges and their peers everything they've been working on throughout the year.
It's Portland Rocketry's first time going to nationals, and there are six students from different schools on the team. Portland Rocketry is a small nonprofit focused on rocketry education and is currently made up of two seventh graders, one freshman, a sophomore and two juniors.
It's Grace Tran's first year on the team, and she's been enjoying designing the rockets, getting sponsorships and creating the team's logo.
"I had designed robots for a robotics team and I thought rocketry was something new and more interesting," says Tran, a Westview High student. Although she enjoys the art and business fields more, Tran says she's interested in engineering and design — so space and rocket related jobs may be something she considers for her future.
Portland Rocketry just returned from a smaller national competition in Virginia two weeks ago called Battle of the Rockets. The team placed fourth and fifth while representing the Northwest.
As the teams get closer to the launch date, they have many practices throughout the week. According to Agarwal, they met up almost every day over spring break to prepare. With the biggest student rocketry competition coming up, their practice will be put to the test.
"I think our team can do well at nationals, but a lot of factors will weigh in," says Agarwal. "We just have to focus and try to launch our rockets the way we've been doing in Oregon."
According to Portland Rocketry's coach, Wanda Ng, she and her husband (and co-coach) Alex Tran knew nothing about rocketry when they started. They give credit to local mentors for helping with launches and space in Hillsboro.
"It was a great experience for all of us," Ng says.
David Douglas High School is sending three members of the rocketry team to D.C. for the final challenge: Yukang Ni, Joshua Page and Lencho Kamal. Ni's rocket is the one that made it to nationals based off official recorded launches, with Page's making it as an alternate.
"It's exciting," says Ni, a first-year member. "I've never traveled anywhere, this is the first time I'll travel to D.C."
Ni originally joined to have something to add to his resume, and he enjoys building models and would love to work for NASA someday.
Page has been involved with rocketry for a while, and grew up building hobby rockets. He's been on the team for two years, and is fascinated with anything that flies. "This combines physics and flight, which are two things I really like," Page says.
David Douglas High competed at the national level four years ago, with an all-girls team. The entire team this year consisted of about 20 students split into four teams. Their coach, Sandra Mueller, started the team when she started teaching about 10 years ago. This year, however, is her last helping students make rocket models and organizing club meetings.
"I'm retiring this year, so I'm really excited that my last year I'll get to go with the kids to D.C.," Mueller says.
The winners of the Team America Rocketry Challenge will have the chance to compete at the Farnborough Airshow in London — an international competition with students from the U.S., United Kingdom, France and Japan. Top teams also receive scholarships and cash.
To follow the TARC competition, see www.rocketcontest.org.