It’s Not Rocket Science

It’s Not Rocket Science

It’s Not Rocket Science

Oh, but it is. In June, my son Casey took part in the 11th Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) at Green River, Utah, representing the West Virginia University Experimental Rocketry Team. This year’s competition involved 52 U.S. and international colleges and universities. Casey, along with six other members of the rocketry team, traveled across the country hauling their rocket named Almost Heaven II, along with all that was necessary to propel this rocket at least 10,000 feet into the sky.  Almost Heaven II (a 14 ft. sounding rocket) was completely built by undergraduate students of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering School at WVU. The goal for this competition is to reach 10,000 feet with at least 10 pounds of payload and recover the rocket.  Such a simple task?  Not really.  Remember, these undergraduate students, while they are interested in all things rockets, are just beginning to acquire the knowledge and skills in building this type of rocket and incorporate that together with their natural interest and figure it all out pretty much on their own.  However, I think they utilized some new methods along with some tried-and-true methods.  The rocket for this competition has to be completely built by students and I saw, first-hand, parts of the rocket being constructed, a motor testing (also built by the team) and the time and effort that was put into this project.  The design, planning and construction happens in their spare time outside of their significant class schedules which takes them from Morgantown to Pennsylvania and, in Casey’s case, to our home here in Wheeling where sometimes our garage looks like a machine shop. Not only are there many rules and regulations to follow to build the rocket, there are pages and pages of required documentation to enter the competition, along with the project’s design and construction, a poster, motor performance, among other requirements. There are two categories: advanced and basic.  Almost Heaven II was entered in the basic category as were the majority of the entrants.  One of the many requirements was the rocket had to have at least a 10 pound payload.  The payload consisted of student-made payloads from a NASA sponsored S4 Program where high school students build an electronic payload. As I said, I saw some of this come together and it was exciting to see the time, workmanship and team effort that went into building the rocket and motor.  Almost Heaven II blasted off and it was absolutely beautiful.  It reached 7,804 feet before falling to the ground.  There were some glitches and as Casey said they were told, things just happen.  The team scored 971 points out of a possible 1400 and placedsecond amongst the U.S. teams and ninth overall in the basic category out of the 44 entrants.  From my perspective, not bad at all! The trip also involved get-togethers with the more than 560 participants, a night of camping out and visiting the local parks. Utah is a beautiful state. Casey brought back some extraordinary pictures.  On a personal note, I have to say I was anxious about the trip that would take about 25 hours to drive one way.  But they loaded up in Morgantown with seven members, two vehicles and a trailer and drove to Green River, Utah, due West on I-70.  The individual driving time was split between two days going out and two days coming back.  They had one little incident coming home.  A tire blew out on the trailer on the interstate, but having two vehicles, they were able to get the tire repaired locally in Junction City, Kan., and then it was back on the road to Morgantown where the rocketry team is already at work for the next competition.  Go Mountaineers!