Smoke, Thunder, Accolades for Inventive Young Flight Engineers
The A rocket from Dean Ray Stucky Middle School in Wichita, Kan., thunders off the pad. Credit: NASA/MSFC
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The smoke has dissipated, the thunder has fallen silent and the North Alabama launch site has emptied of the hundreds who filled it April 17-18 during the 2009-2010 NASA Student Launch Projects rocketry challenge.

More than 300 students on 31 teams -- representing middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities in 18 states -- vied to see whose rocket could come closest to the 1-mile altitude goal and safely return to Earth an on-board science payload. Ten preliminary awards were given, and the grand prize -- $5,000 from ATK Aerospace Systems in Magna, Utah -- will be awarded in May after final post-flight analysis and review is complete.

Teams designed and built their rockets and experiments during the past school year, maintained websites to document the experience, and visited schools and organizations in their communities to share their enthusiasm for rocketry and inspire younger students to work hard and pursue their goals.

The rocketeers were cheered on by more than 500 flight enthusiasts, who crowded the launch-site viewing area at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala., and by an estimated 30,000 Internet viewers. The latter group -- which included audiences as far away as Brazil, Japan and New Zealand -- watched live launch coverage on Ustream, a one-stop shop for streaming video, Twitter and Facebook updates.

The streaming Web coverage was a new component of the event, which is organized each year by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Office, part of the Office of Human Capital, manages the rocketry challenge. The project is sponsored by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Space Operations Mission Directorate and the Education Flight Projects Office in the Office of Education, all at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ATK provided corporate sponsorship. The National Association of Rocketry provided technical review and launch support. Bragg Farms has hosted the launch challenge since 2008.

NASA held the first student launch event in 2001 to inspire young people to pursue careers in technical fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In response to the growing popularity of the event, NASA expanded it in 2006, creating the Student Launch Initiative for middle schools and high schools and the University Student Launch Initiative for colleges and universities.

The 2010 launch event included an awards banquet April 17, funded by ATK. Awards included:
  • Best Vehicle Design: The University of Alabama in Huntsville took home the award for the most creative, innovative, safety-conscious rocket design.
  • Best Payload Design: Vanderbilt University in Nashville won for the most creative and innovative payload experiment, emphasizing safety and scientific value. Vanderbilt's science experiment involved using small, onboard thermoelectric generators to capture electrical energy from the heat of the motor's exhaust as the rocket climbed to altitude.
  • Project Review Award: The University of Alabama in Huntsville received its second award of the competition by delivering the best combination of written preliminary design, critical design and flight readiness reviews and formal presentations.
  • Education Engagement Award: Mississippi State University near Starkville won for best inspiring the study of rocketry and other spaceflight-related topics at local schools and the surrounding community. Collectively, 2009-10 NASA Student Launch Projects participants reached more than 10,000 young people with presentations and exhibits about their rocket-building efforts.
  • Best Web Design: Vanderbilt University won for the best rocketry website -- http://www.vanderbilt.edu/USLI -- completed on time with all relevant documentation.
  • Closest to Altitude Award: The University of South Alabama in Mobile came closest to the specified 1-mile altitude goal. The rocket reached an altitude of 5,307 feet -- just 27 feet off the mark.
  • Peer Awards: All rocket teams submitted votes for peer awards in each division. The "Best-Looking Rocket" awards went to Phelps School in Malvern, Pa., and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The "Best Team Spirit" prizes were awarded to THRUST's (Today's Hobby Rocketry Uniting Sheboygan Teens) The Blue Moon Crew from Sheboygan, Wis., and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
All prize-winning teams received plaques and participation trophies from the Marshall Center and ATK.

The final two university division awards -- "Rookie Team of the Year" and "Best Overall Team of the Year" -- will be presented in May after teams have submitted their post-launch and science payload reports, due May 8. NASA and ATK will pick the 2009-10 champion based on those final reports -- plus the teams' preliminary presentations, results and launch-day flight data.

Watch archived video of the entire launch event at:


Visit NASA Student Launch Projects on Facebook and Twitter:



For more information about the events and other NASA education projects, visit:




Angela Storey, 256-544-0034
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.