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NASA Challenges 350 Rocketeers Nationwide to Aim a Mile High
Students participate in the student launch initiative
Students participate in the student launch initiative

Students participate in NASA's Student Launch Initiative. Image credit: NASA/MSFC
NASA has invited more than 350 student rocketeers from middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities -- 37 teams nationwide -- to take part in the 2009-2010 NASA Student Launch Projects. Their challenge is to build powerful rockets of their own design, complete with a working science payload, and launch them to an altitude of one mile.

On Tuesday morning, April 13, at 11 a.m. EDT, Julie Clift, a graduate co-op with the Marshall Academic Affairs Office and a longtime organizer of the rocket challenge, answered your questions about the Student Launch Projects.

More About the Student Launch Initiative
NASA's annual rocketeering projects include the Student Launch Initiative for middle and high school teams and the University Student Launch Initiative for colleges and universities. Both challenges are designed to inspire students to parlay their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics into rewarding careers in fields critical to NASA's mission of exploration and scientific discovery.

The Student Launch Projects will culminate April 15-18, 2010, when the teams gather at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Marshall manages the projects. NASA engineers will put the students' rockets through a professional design review similar to that undertaken for every NASA launch. The students then will embark on a two-day "launchfest" at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala., where they are cheered on each year by hundreds of Marshall team members and North Alabama rocket enthusiasts.

For more information about the Student Launch Projects and a list of participating schools, visit:

For more information about other NASA education initiatives, visit:

Chat Transcript

Jason (Moderator): Welcome to this NASA Chat. To ask your question, type it i nthe box below the chat window and then click the 'Ask' button on the right.

Fay_Womble: Good Morning

Julie: Hello Fay, nice to have you here.

Julie: Hey everyone, welcome to the chat. We're still waiting for people to join the chat, but I wanted to start out with some general information for you. We're excited about teams arriving tomorrow evening for the launch week events. Teams will be participating in on-site activities including tours and guest speakers. We'll be having a rocket fair at the activities building (4316) for Marshall employees on Friday April 16 from 11 a.m - 1:00 p.m. Launch dates are Sat. April 17 for university teams and Sunday April 18 for middle and high school teams. Both launch days begin at 10:00 a.m. at Bragg Farms in Toney, Alabama. There's also a launch day information line for weather-related issues. 256-961-1354. For an online brochure with directions to the launch site, plus other information, visit

Fay_Womble: How many teams did you have to participate? From how far away did they come. AND who won?

Julie: We have 14 middle and high school teams this year, and 18 universities. They're coming from across the nation. States include Hawaii, Washington, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Indiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee.

Hi: Does it need any license to experiment with rockets?

Julie: Yes, for high-power rockets you're required to have a certification from either the National Association of Rocketry or the Tripoli Rocketry Association.

Julie: High-power motors begin at some G-class motors, primarily H-class motors. The largest motor we'll be launching this year is an M-class motor. The smallest motor we'll be launching is an I-motor.

Michael_C.: Will any former or current Astronauts be at the event?

Julie: Five-flight veteran astronaut Jim Halsell will be speaking to the students at the awards banquet Saturday evening.

Hi: Thanks for that. Are these launch projects only to US nationwide or can anyone from other countries attend these?

Julie: Currently it's only open to U.S. teams. Julie: There are four middle school/high school teams who are returning this year. There are 11 universities returning. All other teams are new this year.

Hlamb: How much time have students spent preparing for this weekend's competition?

Julie: Teams receive request for proposals in August. Proposals are due in early October. Once accepted, teams work for eight months designing and building their rockets and payloads.

Julie: We're often asked how student finance the cost of building a rocket. Space Grant helps to fund many of the USLI teams. We provide funding for SLI teams in the amount of $3700 for new teams and $2450 for returning teams. All teams still fundraise for the project. USLI teams can't spend more than $5K for their rocket as it sits on the pad. USLI is a competition, which is why there's a cap on how much they can spend. ATK is our corporate sponsor.

Julie: Also, student Launch Initiative teams must first qualify at the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) or the Rockets for Schools competition to be eligible to propose for the project. Each summer, we host an Advanced Rocketry Workshop for teams who have placed at TARC or R4S (Rockets for Schools). In addition, interested USLI teams also participate in the Advanced Rocketry Workshop.

Jason (moderator): To ask your question, type it in the box below the chat window and then click the 'Ask' button on the right.

Hlamb: Can you talk a little more about the process they go through during those 8 months? What progress do they have to achieve to be able to launch this weekend? How do you measure that progress?

Julie: After their proposal is accepted, they have several requirements to meet before launch date. All teams are required to host a Web site, provide educational engagement activities in their local communities, and report to a panel of engineers, scientists, and education specialists through a series of reports and reviews. The reports and reviews are similar to the same technical requirements NASA engineers go through. The teams must complete a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), Critical Design Review (CDR), and Flight Readiness Review (FRR).

Hlamb: How do middle and high school students typically get involved with TARC or R4S?

Julie: This year there were about 650 middle school and high school teams who attempted a qualifying flight for TARC. The top 100 teams will launch again in May at The Plains, Virginia for the overall competition. There are fewer teams who participate in R4S.

Julie: After teams arrive in Huntsville, they still have other requirements they must meet before launch day. Each team must pass a Flight Hardware and Safety Inspection.

Julie: After the launch weekend, teams have one more report to submit called a Post Launch Assessment Review (PLAR). In the PLAR, teams document their launch and payload results.

Julie: We'll be streaming the event (both Saturday and Sunday) live on Ustream at In addition, we'll be Twittering and Facebooking with updates.

Hlamb: Can you describe what the mood or atmosphere is like on launch day?

Julie: Each team will be working at a table prepping their rocket. Teams are usually proudly carrying their rockets to the launch pad, then turning on switches as it sits on the pad. Once the area is clear and the countdown begins, you can feel the excitement and see the nerves in the kids. When it launches, there are cheers and then silence as you wait for the recovery system (parachutes) to deploy. Cheers again after deployment and safe recovery!

Micky: What are the assessment parameters?

Julie: We've developed a scoring rubric for the USLI teams (SLI teams do not compete). Teams are scored on a number of items at each review. In addition, teams are scored on their Web site and their educational engagement activities. For example, some items they're scored on during reviews are: design and test plans for the vehicles and payloads, safety measures, requirements and metrics, the professionalism of their presentations, integration of the rocket and payload, etc.

Julie: Hey everyone, we're going to be closing the chat in another moment or two, so please let me know if you have any other questions you'd like to ask!

Micky: I am very much interested. Is there a way to see these presentation online after the competition?

Julie: Each year we look for panel members to sit in on the reviews. We have training for the panel members to know what to look for from each team. If you're interested in being a panel member for next year, please email me at Also, teams do post their reports and presentations on their team Web sites.

Micky: Thanks Julie for all the will be helpful for me to be there for next competition!

Julie: You're welcome -- appreciate having you here in the chat! :)

Hlamb: How do we find the team websites?

Julie: You can email for a list of team Web sites.

Hlamb: Thank you for the information. Enjoyed the chat!

Julie: We enjoyed your questions -- thanks!

Julie: Really appreciate all of the great questions from all of you. Thanks for joining us today, and hope you can join us this weekend. For more information, you can also visit

Janet Anderson, 256-544-0034
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.