Area youth participate in 2018 Reach for the Stars competition

  • Published
  • By Deidre Ortiz
Though summer break has started, area students are still finding opportunities to learn while out of the classroom.

Thanks to members of the Tennessee Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), volunteers from Arnold Air Force Base, and Olga Oakley, the Air Force Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Program director, students ages 10-18 from across southern middle Tennessee were invited to participate in the 2018 Reach for the Stars rocket launching competition held June 2 at the Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma.

With materials provided by the Air Force STEM program, 15 area students designed and then launched their rockets from the United Technologies Aerospace Systems field near the HOSC.

A winner is announced based on an average of the two launches closest to the target, which is marked 30 feet downrange from the launch pad. This year’s winner was fifth grade student Evan Cain, whose average distance from the target was 33 feet 4 inches.

According to Oakley, the Reach for the Stars event is an annual educational outreach program meant to provide a fun, hands-on learning opportunity for students.

“The participants had a lot of fun designing and building their rockets, then seeing how well their rockets performed when launched,” she said. “I’m super impressed by the skills of the kids and the effort they put into it.”

Jim Burns, local AIAA member and deputy for Mission Support of the Space and Missiles Combined Test Force at Arnold Air Force Base, is one of the long-time volunteers of Reach for the Stars.

He said he likes being part of Reach for the Stars because the event shows students that science can be enjoyable for everyone.

“This is the fourth year that AIAA has supported this competition in conjunction with the Air Force STEM program and Hands-On Science Center,” Burns said. “STEM education is critically important to the future of our profession and our national competitiveness. There are so many distractions that pull at a kid’s time today, and it was exciting to see so many young people out here getting their hands on to science. Making science and engineering real to them is one way to let them see that they too can be scientists and engineers; it’s not just something for geeky guys with wild hair in lab coats.”

As an advocate of STEM, AEDC Commander, Col. Scott Cain, was in attendance to cheer on the participants and also served as the launch control officer.

“Reach for the Stars was a great event for students from all around southern middle Tennessee,” he said. “The Air Force and Hands-On Science Center STEM partnership will continue to offer opportunities like this in the community. I was pleased to meet students and families who came to the Hands-On Science Center for this event from around the region. We also couldn’t do this without volunteers who guide and mentor the kids as they learn about science and technology, and just as importantly, have a lot of fun.”

In addition to being a local event, Reach for the Stars is a nationally-recognized competition co-founded in 2005 by former science teachers Jack and Kathy Colpas. Their goal is to inspire students to take an interest in STEM and also honor the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, of the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger.

Results of the local Reach for the Stars competition determine national winners in that five of the closest of all entries submitted to the competition headquarters by deadline get invited to the National Winner’s Celebration.