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May 10, 2005 > Rocket Scientists of Newark High

Rocket Scientists of Newark High

by Venkat Raman

It's true. We have a class full of students that learn about rocketry and build model rockets as part of their high school curriculum. Their spirit, skill and determination have placed them among only 100 teams who will compete in a national competition. This is the second time a team from Newark Memorial High School has qualified for the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Since this is just the third year a course on rocketry has been taught at Newark High, the magnitude of this achievement and the quality of teaching that brought about this success is amazing.

Initiated by teacher Tom Collett utilizing a technology grant from the State of California, this course continues to gain popularity among students. Elie Wasser, a graduate of Newark Memorial High School in 1997, took over from Collett and has been teaching this class for the past two years. Wasser hails from a family of teachers - his parents and brother have also taught in the school district - and enjoys being back at his Alma Mater teaching science and, in particular, rocketry. The year-long class can be taken for credit once, but past students can get involved in rocket building activities in subsequent years through after-school participation.

The rocketry class accepts students at all levels - freshmen through seniors - and encourages diversity in skill sets - mathematics, computer simulations and hands-on craftsmanship making rocket parts etc. Most students start the class with no experience or prior exposure to rocketry. All necessary skills are learned in the class. In order to build successful rockets, students also learn and apply physics to compute trajectories and minimize drag. After the theory behind rocketry is discussed, design work is performed with the aid of RockSim, computer simulation software that helps the students predict the behavior of their design. Only after a viable design is identified does physical construction begin.

Students start with a simple single-stage rocket that is constructed as a one-person project. After completion of the individual work, they pair with another student and move on to more advanced design. A third level of sophistication is introduced when building rockets for national competition. Specific goals of this competition vary from year to year.

The national competition - TARC - was first held two years ago. It was initially planned as a one-time event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of flight and was organized by Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). But overwhelming interest in the event turned it into an annual affair. It is currently co-sponsored by National Association of Rocketry, a non-profit organization that has been in existence since 1957 to serve rocketry hobbyists. This event is strictly limited to students in the 7th grade to 12th grade levels. Only schools and non-profit youth organizations are allowed to enter the competition.

Adults, including the teacher, can be involved in the project, but only in the capacity of advisors. The real work must be performed by the students. The primary motivation for the contest is to spark interest in aerospace careers. The work force in the aerospace industry is aging (average age is 54) and is at the lowest level since 1953 so there is a need to generate awareness and interest among students.

The 2005 TARC goal is a flight time of exactly 60 seconds with a payload of one or two raw eggs that must be intact on landing. Broken eggs result in disqualification and deviations from the 60-second flight requirement cause teams to lose points proportional to the deviation; a flight of 59 seconds scores the same as that of 61 seconds. Bonus points awarded for two-stage rockets and for two-egg payloads. This year's contest attracted 712 teams from 49 states and District of Columbia and including approximately 10,000 students. The final showdown is to be staged at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia on May 21. The top ten teams will divide $60,000 of U.S. Savings Bonds.

The rocketry class of Newark Memorial High School - about 30 students - was divided into three teams for the TARC contest. Two teams advanced in the initial rounds, and one made it onto the final list. Choice of the rocket components depends on the goal to be achieved. This year's design warranted a rocket motor that could not be launched from the grounds at Newark High. As a result, the teams used open spaces in Livermore and Stockton to test their equipment.

Under ideal conditions, with no wind and a perfectly vertical launch, a rocket is expected to attain an elevation of about 1200 feet. Conditions are hardly ever ideal - the teams have had to launch the rockets into the wind and after the opening of the parachutes, were at the mercy of winds for flight path and time. On one occasion, the rocket got stuck high in a tree! Surviving all such adversities, the team that qualified as finalists did so with a flight time of 58.7 seconds, 1.3 seconds off the goal. The finalist team consists of nine members one of whom is a returning student, using a two-stage rocket with a payload of two eggs.

There will be no test flights at the finals - just a single launch that needs to perform close to perfection. A number of dignitaries are expected to attend the event - Homer Hickam, author of "Rocket Boys," as well as astronauts and senators. The team will later visit the Mall in Washington D.C. and see the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum among other sites.

According to Anthony Camara, one of the finalists, the most difficult problem was designing the rocket's stabilizing fins and hand-sanding them from birch wood. To Michael Martin, working with the computer simulation program was the best part of the contest. Elie Wasser welcomes the contest as an excellent opportunity for students to learn hands-on lessons in aerodynamics in a non-classroom setting. He says, "It's wonderful seeing students take knowledge they have gained in the classroom and apply it to a real-world problem" and concludes, "These students truly are rocket scientists!"

TCV wishes these "rocketeers" success in Virginia.

The Newark Memorial High School rocketry team needs your help! The class is asking everyone to take part in a Chevy's fundraiser Sunday, May 15. Invite your friends and family to dine at Chevy's (6506 Mowry School Road, Newark) on this special day and Chevy's will donate 20% of the proceeds to the Newark racketeers. Make sure you clip out the coupon below and take it with you to the restaurant. Reservations at (510) 226-9080 are required for parties of 8 or more. Chevy's will only donate to the project if you present a coupon.

Individual and Business sponsorships are being offered as well. Checks may be made out to Newark Memorial High School (Federal School ID #94-1717677).

For additional information regarding rocketry course or the TARC competition, please contact Elie Wasser at 510-818-4396 or ewasser@nusd.k12.ca.us. You may also visit www.rocketcontest.org to learn more about the TARC program.

 
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