Youngsters ‘Reach for the Stars’ in rocket launch event

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Several area children recently participated in an event at Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma intended to launch their interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

The annual Reach for the Stars Rocket Competition took place over two days last month.

During the event, which was sponsored by Air Force STEM, participants built model rockets which were subsequently launched. The aim of the competition, open to participants ages 10-18, is to have the launched rocket parachute to a target located not too far from the launchpad. Rockets are to be launched twice, with the average of distances from the target recorded. The competitor with the closest average distance is declared the winner.

Competitors gathered at the HOSC built and decorated their rockets June 23 but, due to the threat of inclement weather that day, the launch was postponed until June 30. All of the participants returned for the launch portion to see how their creations fared.

“The participants really enjoyed the event, with some commenting that they will be back next year and will be telling their friends how much fun they had,” said Julia Burgett, Air Force STEM coordinator for Arnold Air Force Base.

Prior to building their rockets, the young participants were welcomed by test engineer Kellye Dooley and test analysts Matthew Perenich and 2nd Lt. Ben West, all of whom are employed at the nearby Arnold AFB. These presenters espoused the importance of STEM and the impact those working in STEM fields have upon the world.

“To pursue a life of engineering, a life of research, a life of science is to provide a service to your community and make the world a better place,” Dooley said.

Perenich told participants that upon graduating from college, he began to explore ways he could put his engineering skills to use to benefit others.

“I found out you can serve the military as a civilian to protect and defend our nation,” he said. “Just as Lt. West protects the nation as an active-duty service member, so do civilians, like me and Kellye, protect the nation as well. Now, I get to go to work every day and work on the coolest projects in the world.”

The personnel from Arnold also joined the participants in building rockets, offering assistance to the competitors when needed.

For 14-year-old Kami Johnson, the event was the latest stop during a season filled with visits to educational and art getaways.

“This whole summer, I’ve been to tons of camps, and this is a different camp,” she said.

To ensure their rockets were sent into the sky in style, participants could decorate their rockets with stickers and doodles.

Eleven-year-old Gavin Campbell eschewed the stickers packed in with each rocket, opting instead to put his own personal flourish on his rocket. Campbell arrived for the rocket build wearing a shirt bearing the likeness of Homer Simpson, one of the main characters from his favorite show, the long-running animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”

Using his phone, Campbell took a photo of his shirt. Using this picture, he sketched a detailed drawing of Homer on a piece of paper, intent on affixing his rendition to his rocket and sending the Simpson patriarch skyward.

“I just think it’s so funny,” Campbell responded when asked why he holds such a strong affinity for “The Simpsons.”

While the glue dried on their rockets, participants were treated to a presentation by Allen Hall with the Music City Missile Club, an area-based organization that works to boost public interest in rocketry. 

“He took us through the basics of model rockets for those who had never launched before and showed how easy it is to get into it as a hobby,” Burgett said.

The HOSC Reach for the Stars was held not only to provide a fun STEM activity but also to determine the local Reach for the Stars winner. If at least one competitor qualifies by having his or her rocket survive two launches, the results are entered in the national Reach for the Stars competition to see how the local victor stacks up against junior rocketeers from around the country.

Unfortunately, none of the participants in the local Reach for the Stars event qualified for the national contest. Conditions on the day of the launch were particularly windy and, while each participant was able to launch his or her rocket once, they were unable to launch a second time as the rules for the national competition stipulate.

“The winds caught our parachutes and drifted the rockets in various directions,” Burgett said. “We have not seen them since.”

But no one came away disappointed. On the contrary, all involved found it quite humorous that Mother Nature decided to push the rockets off-course.

“We all found it to be quite hilarious and a funny way to wrap up the event,” Burgett said.

Burgett said she hopes those who took part in this year’s Reach for the Stars event came away with an interest in model rocketry and a deeper appreciation of STEM.

“I learned so much as well. This was my first year hosting this competition. I had so much fun with everyone – the volunteers from the base, volunteers from Music City Missile Club and the kids. I hope they found a love for STEM and realized it can be really fun. I hope to get the word out about this event and make it even bigger and better next year.”