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Student Teams Launch Rockets and Bring Home Awards from NASA Student Launch Initiative Events
Angela Storey
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

News release: 06-067

Students from Madison West High School of Madison, Wis., assemble their rocket before launching it in Manchester, Tenn., during the NASA Student Launch Initiative May 6. To many people, model rocketry is just a hobby. To 11 high school student teams who spent the past school year designing innovative rockets -- and launched them Saturday, May 6 -- model rocketry could be a stepping-stone to exploring the solar system.

The student teams built the rockets as part of the NASA Student Launch Initiative, the space agency's education program, which encourages young people to test their math and science skills in practical, real-world situations. The program challenges each team to design, build and test a rocket; prepare a scientific payload to ride on board; post a Web site of their own design that showcases their work; and present formal project reviews to a panel of NASA engineers.

The 2005-2006 Student Launch Initiative culminated May 4-6 in special events sponsored and hosted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The events began Thursday, May 4, when teams brought their rockets to the Marshall Center for a presentation to NASA employees. Students from each team explained how their rocket would work and described the nature and value of the scientific payload it would carry.

"When we started, the thought of giving presentations to NASA was really intimidating," said Jacinth Sohi, a junior member of the Madison West High School rocket team from Madison, Wis. "But the NASA engineers we talked to and worked with over the course of the year were all very supportive. They made us feel comfortable about what we were building. I hope I can provide that support as a scientist to students who come to this event in the future."

Students spent Friday touring the Marshall Center and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, also in Huntsville. They visited Marshall's Propulsion Research Laboratory, the test stands where full-sized engines for the space shuttle and the Saturn V rocket – which carried astronauts to the moon – were fired, and the Payload Operations Center where NASA employees stay in constant communication with the crew of the International Space Station performing scientific experiments in orbit.

Anticipation and excitement ran high Saturday morning as teams made their way to the open fields of the Mid Tenn Turf, Inc. sod farm in Manchester, Tenn., where they finally let their rockets soar.

While the program is not officially a competition, teams from Wisconsin and Virginia brought home special achievement awards for best presentation, best payload, best Web site and highest altitude reached by a rocket. All participating teams earned plaques for their outstanding work.

NASA awarded the University School of Milwaukee rocket team the Rocket Fair plaque for its presentation to Marshall employees. The rocket built by the Milwaukee school also earned the Altitude Award for reaching the highest altitude during flight. The team's rocket, "Papa Smurf," soared to a height of just over one mile. The trophy for Best Web Site Design went to the students from Oakton High School of Vienna, Va. Their dynamic Web site, posted at , includes photos of tests, a full explanation of their scientific payload and even a blueprint of their rocket. Madison West High School's rocket team from Madison, Wis., won the trophy for Best Payload Design. Team members built a rocket carrying a plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to test the organism's reaction to the stress and gravitational forces experienced during launch.

"All the teams that brought their rockets to the Student Launch Initiative should be proud of what they've accomplished," said Jim Ellis, manager of the Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Office. "They faced the same challenges NASA engineers face every day: designing, building and launching a space exploration vehicle, conducting experiments during flight, and reporting the results of both the rocket and the science. These students are laying the groundwork for successful careers in the aerospace industry, and could even be part of the team to get us back to the moon, on to Mars and to destinations beyond."

The experience has already changed the future for one student. Joe Kubiak, a senior at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., and captain of his rocket team, planned a career in dentistry before he got involved with rockets last summer.

"I thought it might be fun to try when I saw friends who were so passionate about it," Kubiak said. "Then I got excited about it, too. I learned about leadership while guiding my team. I also learned about engineering while designing our rocket and our scientific payload. Plus, there was this sense of accomplishment, not just when we launched our rocket, but in the problems we had to overcome to get here. It was a great experience." Joe plans to start work on a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in the fall.

Other teams recognized for their outstanding work in developing and launching their rockets were from Edison High School in Fresno, Calif.; Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, Calif.; Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Colo.; Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla.; Munfordville Elementary in Munfordville, Ky.; Caro High School in Caro, Mich.; and Southfield High School in Southfield, Mich.

Teams participating in the event for the first time were chosen from among schools that competed in the May 2005 Team America Rocketry Challenge at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va. The top 25 teams at that Challenge were invited to submit proposals to NASA to gain entry into this year's Student Launch Initiative. Schools participating in the Initiative for the first time received a $2,500 grant.

For more information on the Student Launch Initiative, visit:

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