May 21, 2007

Team America Rocketry Challenge 2007

Last Saturday the finals for this year's event were held. A brief recap for those unfamiliar with it:

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Organization of Rocketry (NAR), teams of students design, build and fly a rocket to meet specific mission goals. This year the goals were:

1) get as close as possible to an altitude of 850 feet as measured by an onboard electronic altimeter
2) get as close as possible to a flight duration of 45 seconds, measured from the first motion on the launch pad to the touching down of the payload capsule
3) carry aloft a raw egg and return it unbroken

More than 600 teams (6000+ kids) from across the US entered and made qualification flights, and the top 100 teams were selected to fly in the finals. The students have to do the work themselves with minimal supervision from the adults. Teams can come from middle and high schools, private schools, home-school associations, and scout, explorer and 4H clubs.

The prizes consist of scholarship money, money for the sponsoring school or group for scientific educational equipment and materials, and more. The purpose of the challenge is to promote an interest in the aerospace sciences as a career choice.

I talked about previous events here: 2006, more 2006, 2005 recap, more 2005, 2004, 2003 (now where did I hide that?), and 2002.

I was at the field at 6:30am and didn't leave until almost 9pm that night, and most of it was spent on my feet. I'm just going to touch on some factoids and memorable moments.

Every year, we've had uber-cool flyovers by military aircraft as part of the opening ceremony. This year, an F117 stealth fighter opened the show. It's bigger than you'd think, a *lot* quieter than you expect, and the head on profile is almost invisible.

England did their first rocketry challenge contest this year, and their winning team was treated to a trip to the colonies to attend our event. Their first place score would have placed them in 5th here, which is no shame at all. Quite a few people from the British embassy were present as well.

There was a contingent from the German aerospace industries, checking out the event with an eye towards holding their own.

Buzz Aldrin attended again this year. He still looks good, he's still a hero.

Among the many, many, many VIP's, the biggest this year was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He gave a really nice non-political speech and has lots of serious-looking security agents swarming around him. I was close enough to nod and say hello but I didn't take the step forward to shake his hand.

The winning team was half and half male/female and had an almost perfect score. Lower is better, and theirs was 1.86 (zero is perfect). As a bonus, Raytheon (I think) is footing the bill to send them to the Paris Air Show next month. Raytheon also chipped in an extra five grand in prize money for each of the top three teams.

The skill-level of these kids is improving to the point of near-perfection. I can only remember three flights that were disqualified for safety reasons, and one of them was borderline. For all I know, that one wasn't DQ'd because our main goal is to let the teams win or lose on their own, not because of nit-picky rules violations.

I heard something like "Three years ago, the cutoff to make the finals was 99 points. This year, it was 38." That, my friends, is massive improvelence.

I got sunburned, as usual. Afterwards, we had a catered steak and rib BBQ, and then broke down the range and put away the equipment. At the end of the day I was dog tired yet feeling good.

Instead of sleeping in the next day, I got up early enough to get to the ballpark to watch the afternoon game. More sun, but I remembered the sunblock this time.

Posted by: Ted at 08:36 PM | category: Rocketry
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1 Somehow watching graphic representation of live America's Cup races over the internet - though cool - seems rather pale by comparison.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at May 21, 2007 07:41 PM (Z3kjO)

2 That had to have been a fantastic event. Wish I could've been there.

Posted by: Elisson at May 22, 2007 09:28 AM (N92RQ)

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