Features 2001


 ... Launching rockets at school

John Averell

Last week I helped launch 45 rockets.

I watched each fourth and fifth grade student at Horace Mann School enthusiastically yank the cord that propelled his or her very own homemade rocket up to 100 feet into the blue morning sky. Amazing! Here's the story.

The students had been well prepared on the principles of rocketry by their teacher, Beverly Hinckly, over the previous weeks. Then each one brought in a two liter pop bottle. I happened to be at the previous class observing the science project that Dick Letch, a retired engineer, was directing. Dick is great. He has a bagful of tricks that lets the kids do, hands on, what was just theory before.

He showed them how to make a nose cone from stiff paper and three fins from foamed plastic, and helped them glue them onto the pop bottle (with my help of course.) The girls decorated their fins with colorful designs; not many of the boys did. Voila! A true rocket! But what to use for fuel?

The morning of the launch Dick set up an air compressor hooked to a clever launching pad designed and built by the teacher's brother. The kids straggled out to the playground with their rockets. Then one by one they put a cup of water into their bottle and gave it to me. I pushed it quickly onto a rubber stopper, gave the OK to Dick, and he counted down. First he turned on the air. It bubbled furiously into the rocket. In a few seconds he counted..three, two, one, BLASTOFF! The proud owner yanked a cord that released the bottle, now under high air pressure, and watched in awe as it streaked skyward.

What a great lesson! These were true rockets. Their fuel was self contained, and they moved by shooting out material (air) at high speed, pushing the rockets in the opposite direction. These students will never forget that lesson. Neither will I.

July 6, 2001

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