Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Nerd Month at the Yellojkt household continues. Coming right off the BotBall competition, my son and a team from his school qualified for the Team America Rocketry Challenge (that name makes me want to see the marionette movie spoof). The sponsor of the Rocketry Club is also the teacher of the Engineering Robotics class.
Nearly 700 schools and organizations registered teams at the beginning of the year and about half of those sent up rockets that qualified. Of those, the top 100 teams got invited to Nationals. Fortunately for us, Nationals were in nearby Northern Virginia, so our travel expenses were limited to a night at the Manassas Fairfield Inn and dinner at the Country Buffet, so no expense was spared. Several teams came from Florida and one came from Washington State.
Since you can’t see all that goes in a rocket, my son made a cardboard mock-up of all the parts that are needed. The big ball of tape at the top is a raw egg “passenger” that has to survive the launch and recovery. The egg is very important. Without an intact egg, they don’t even count your score.
The next item from the top is an altimeter. The goal of the competition is to send the rocket to exactly 850 fifty feet in the air. Every foot away from the goal is a point of penalty and the lowest score wins. Every rocket also has to have a parachute and the flight has to last exactly 45 seconds. Finally, no rocket flies without an engine or “motor” in the hobbyist lingo.
Like all these engineering competitions, the contestants tend to be estrogen deprived. The girl in the group picture is the team captain and was single-handedly responsible for the team making Nationals. While my son was off touring colleges, she went out on the last day of qualifications and set off two successful witnessed launches.
One team was all female and each team member had a cute nickname like the Princess of Payload, Engine Empress, and the Diva of Dogbarf. That last nickname was not a slur on her looks, but rather an inside joke about an obscure rocketry accessory. Another team was called 50/50 because half the team was female. Other than that most of the teams had one or two female members if they had any at all.
Team Honeywell (the local sponsors of my kid’s team) drew a late afternoon launch window. By then, the beautiful cool but sunny day had turned a little breezy and a gust of wind right at launch made the rocket fall short of the target altitude. A final score of 69 put them into 57th place, but at least the egg survived unlike the dozen or so teams that disqualified. As good parents we kept insisting that they were winners for just being in the competition, but the kids were disappointed nonetheless.
All-in-all I spent a very pleasant day sitting in a lawn chair in a huge meadow aggravating my hayfever. When the spectators got bored, there was an exhibitor tent filled with a who’s who roster of various cogs in the military-industrial complex. There were colleges like Embry-Riddle and University of Alabama-Huntsville. Plenty of defense contractors were giving out tchotkes. And there were the ubiquitous military recruiters showing off the toys you get to play with if you wear a uniform.
Throughout the day, they were frequent PSA’s about the need for future aerospace engineers. It seems all those NASA era baby boomers are about to retire and the industry needs to fill the ranks. For the awards ceremony, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates came out to help hand out over $75,000 in scholarships. Our kids went home empty handed but exhausted.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Name the nerdiest school activity. Extra credit if you took part.