Episode 32: Johnathan McClure

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Episode 32: Johnathan McClure
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This episode is a part of the NASA
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Show Notes

Special Guest: Johnathan McClure, member of North Dakota student rocket team

(0:00) Intro

(0:20) Interview with Johnathan McClure. University of North Dakota student Johnathan McClure discusses the development and successful launch of a student-built rocket.

          North Dakota Space Grant  →
          National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program
          University of North Dakota Student Rocket Project  →

(7:34) The Great Worldwide Star Count  → is Oct. 1-15, 2007.

(8:05) Students are invited to help choose regions of Mars for NASA's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment  → to image in the search for water on the Red Planet.

(9:33) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 32. Sept. 26, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

North Dakota college students have taken their education to new heights -- successfully launching the first student-built, educational rocket in their state. The Student Rocket Initiative Project was funded, in part, by a grant through NASA and the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

University of North Dakota associate physics professor Tim Young has led a group of students from two universities and other volunteers in the design and construction of a reusable rocket. University of North Dakota students worked on the rocket airframe, engine design, avionics, a mobile launch facility and safety. Students from North Dakota State University worked on launch systems and telemetry. The students are undergraduates with a variety of educational interests, including electrical and mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, aviation and anthropology. One of the students is Johnathan McClure, a junior majoring in electrical engineering at the University of North Dakota.

Can you tell us about the rocket project?

Johnathan McClure: We built a small test configuration before we move on to some of the larger configurations of this rocket that we're going to do. The launch that we did in May was basically just a small test launch with an "M" motor in it. And the full configuration, when we're finally done, is going to have an "N" motor, and then four M’s around it, in kind of a cluster. And that's going to be a while yet.

Deana: And when you speak of an M motor.

Johnathan: Oh, yes. There are different sizes of solid rocket motors. Like the M motor that we used in our rocket was an M-1297. It has 1,300 newtons of thrust for about four seconds. And so, that got our test flight up to about 2,800 feet.

Deana: Describe the rocket itself to us.

Johnathan: It's about 12 feet high. It's white. And we mount it on a trailer that we built specifically for it. It's got four fins at the back of it. The whole thing was built mostly of off-the-shelf components. We didn't have to do a lot of finish work with the rocket itself. We had to design the fin structure, and cut and sand and assemble all of that. We had to do some design and simulations before that, so it got kind of involved. We also had to plan for a recovery system in the middle of all that.

We ended up doing two deployments for parachutes in the rocket. We did one for a drogue and then another for a main chute. When it went up -- when it got to the top -- it launched the drogue. And then after a while, it launched the main parachute, so it didn't drag too far off course with the main chute out.

Deana: How many times could you reuse this rocket?

Johnathan: Well, assuming that it doesn't get smashed up, it could be used any number of times, because the solid motor can be replaced, basically, after each launch.

Deana: Where did you do the launch? How did you work all that?

Johnathan: We did the launch in a field outside of Larimore, which is outside of Grand Forks here. One of the farmers there is a member of the local rocket club, so they've been doing launches out there for a while. And they agreed to let us do this one. For the larger launches that we're going to do in the future, we're going to have a launch site out by Devils Lake, which is farther from here.

Deana: Can you tell us about the launches that you'll do in the fall?

Johnathan: We're going to try to mount some additional electronics in there. In the test launch, we just had some basic avionics, to get the altitude and the basic flight path. But we're going to try to put a camera in there to get some good footage as it goes up, and also a GPS locator unit. And then in October, we're going to start putting some larger rockets in the back. And then, the launch after that will be even bigger rockets. The rocket that we have right now, we know we can extend it out to the five-engine configuration that we want to do, probably [by the] end of this year, next year, sometime. That will end up going about 25,000 feet when it's all done, and I believe that's actually just short of what qualifies as a commercial spaceflight now. [laughter].

Deana: Did you have an official countdown?

Johnathan: Well, we didn't use a clock or anything, but we did call out the countdown as we ignited the rocket.

Deana: And then how did you react to the success? This was the first launch, right, for a North Dakota educational rocket?

Johnathan: Yeah, it was. I was excited. It was a lot more impressive than I thought it would be. That's for sure. [laughter] It was beyond expectations, so to speak. And I ended up learning a lot of new stuff myself.

Deana: What kinds of things did you learn?

Johnathan: Well, I learned a lot about basic construction, I guess -- welding, carpentry, torching stuff -- when you're removing it from the trailer, because we basically had to build the trailer that we moved the rocket around on, as well as assembling the rocket. And I learned a lot about practical wiring up, which I haven't really done too much of yet, as an EE [electrical engineering major]. I had to wire up all the avionics systems and put them in the payload bay.

Deana: How would you make a comparison between working on the rocket project and what you learn when you're sitting in a classroom?

Johnathan: Well, I'd have to say that working on the rocket is definitely a lot more rewarding and forgiving than a classroom. When you're taking a test, you get it right or you get it wrong. Either way, I mean, it's just theory. But when you're actually building something like this, you actually get to see the results, and that's probably the best part about the whole project, I'd have to say.

Deana: Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share with students who have similar interests to yours?

Johnathan: Well, this has definitely been a great experience. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more projects like it around the country, having people to compare notes with and such. If I were to suggest anything to someone who was going to work on something like this, it would be probably to get a good team together, if at all possible, because the teambuilding was probably the biggest part of the whole project. It took us a while to get enough folks together to make it all work, student-wise, anyway.

Deana: The students are working toward the first public launch of the rocket in October -- a flight that will carry several student-built experiments. You can find out more about the Student Rocket Initiative Project and the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project by following links in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


You’re invited to count the stars in the evening sky from Oct. 1-15, 2007, and report your results online. The Great Worldwide Star Count, sponsored by Windows to the Universe, is designed to raise awareness about light pollution and encourage learning in astronomy. All the information needed to participate will be available on the Web. At the conclusion of the event, the submitted data will be analyzed and a map will be generated highlighting the results.

And here's an opportunity for you to help NASA on the quest for signs of water on the Red Planet.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment -- or HiRISE -- camera now orbiting Mars is helping NASA search for signs of water on Mars. Students are invited to help choose regions of Mars for HiRISE to image. The HiRISE team will pick several suggestions and image them with the camera in the coming months. The participants will represent the first people on Earth to see the resulting image and will have the chance to search for signs of water in the image.

Background information, teacher guides, student activity books and tutorials are available online to help students choose a region. Interested teachers and students are encouraged to register online to receive more information about how to participate.

You can get details on the HiRISE Image Targeting Challenge and the Great Worldwide Star Count by following links in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We want to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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