Educator Features

Middle School Rocket Science
Team members prepare a rocket for launch
For a student, middle school can be complicated. But it's not exactly rocket science -- usually.

Image to left: Howard Middle School's performance in the qualifying round secured their spot in the national competition. Credit: NASA

A group of students at Howard Middle School in Orlando, Fla., recently got the chance to compete in the "big leagues" at the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The Science Explorers' Model Rocket Club team from Howard, a member of the NASA Explorer Schools project, was one of only 100 teams in the country to be selected for the competition. Even more impressive, they were one of only about a half-dozen middle school teams (out of almost 50 that participated in the qualifying round) to compete in a roster filled mostly with high schools.

Teams were selected from a pool of the first 750 entrants to submit an application to participate in the event. Those 750 teams competed in a fly-off challenge, and the top scorers moved on to the national competition. In the fly-off challenge, teams had to design a rocket that could reach 800 feet and land in 45 seconds without breaking its raw egg payload. Howard Middle School's qualifying launch reached 798 feet and landed in 47.8 seconds. As a result, they were in the top 100 qualifying schools and were invited to compete in Virginia at the national competition this past May.

This year's competition was the fourth annual event for the Team America Rocketry Challenge, which bills itself as "the largest model rocket showcase on the planet." The event is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association of America, Inc. and the National Association of Rocketry. NASA serves as one of the event's government partners. This year's competition was held on May 20, 2006, in The Plains, Va. The 100 teams selected for the challenge competed for a share of a $60,000 prize package.

Related Resources
+ NASA Office of Education Web site

+ NASA Explorer Schools

+ Team America Rocketry Challenge
While Howard Middle School was not one of the top finishers -- ending up closer to the middle -- the team did not go home empty-handed. It won a special award for Best Pre-Finals Publicity. Sponsor Susan Leeds was extremely proud of the team's performance. "Although we did not place in the top ten, I can't say how pleased I was. The students could not have done anything differently in their pre-flight preparation. They were flawless."

The team also received recognition at home for their efforts. The mayor and city commissioners of Orlando declared May 15 as "Howard Middle School Science Explorer Day" in the city. The proclamation praised the team for "demonstrating creativity, critical thinking and a strong spirit of teamwork."

Through the NASA Explorer Schools project, NASA enters into three-year partnerships with selected schools to provide engaging mathematics, science, engineering and technology learning to educators, students and families. Competitive applications and selection of up to 50 NES teams occur each year, for a maximum total of 150 teams.

With NES, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education projects. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or "STEM") disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in STEM education projects to encourage their pursuit of educational disciplines critical to NASA's future engineering, scientific and technical missions.

A close-up view of the Howard Middle School rocket
Image to left: Rockets in the competition had to carry a raw egg during launch and have the egg return to the ground intact. Credit: NASA

This is not the first time the City of Orlando has honored someone for working with rockets. The city named a major thoroughfare for astronaut John Young. He walked on the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar mission and commanded the first space shuttle mission and, coincidentally, attended class on the Howard Middle campus when it was originally Orlando High School.

With their strong beginning, who knows what awaits the Science Explorers in the future?

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services