High school students test rockets at WSMR
By Miriam U. Rodriquez Missile Ranger Editor
Students from five Texas area high schools had an opportunity to experience the life of a rocket scientist during the Student Rocket Launch, held July 6-8 at White Sands Missile Range.
Four students from Marble Falls High School were the first to attempt to launch their 450-pound rocket. Eight students at the school were involved in building and designing the 18-foot rocket as part of the SystemsGo program. Students were hoping their rocket would go up to 100,000 feet.
“I feel good and confident about our design,” said student Connor White, 19.
White said it was a good experience to go through the whole engineering algorithm and see the final product.
As can often happen in day-to-day testing at WSMR, the first group of students started the day with a power outage. As they worked through technical issues, they then got a couple of surprises from Mother Nature throughout the day before they were able to finally attempt to launch their rocket.
“It was an awesome accomplishment for us to be able to come out here to WSMR to test our rocket,” said Marshall Jett, 18.
Jett plans to attend Texas A& M and major in science and engineering.
Enrique Torres, a test officer with the Special Projects Branch at Materiel Test Directorate, said allowing students to come test their rockets at WSMR helps promote the STEM program.
“They take a hands-on approach,”Torres said.
Torres said WSMR has a memorandum of understanding with SystemsGo that allows students to come test their rockets at no cost to the project. This is the sixteenth year for the program at WSMR.
“In reality, this experience bridges what the students have learned in the classroom and helps prepare them for the real world by showing them what the test environment has in store for them,”Torres said. “We are preparing them for industry and jobs in the aerospace and engineering field.”
Although the Marble Falls High School rocket didn’t go, the students said they learned from the process.
“At first I was disappointed, but I realized I got to witness something amazing,” said 17-year-old Eric Avalos.
“I got excited when it looked like our rocket was going to lift off, and was disappointed when it didn’t go,” said Tyler Taber, 18.
Taber said they believe there was a problem with their injection system.
“It was a good learning experience when you get to see that things don’t always work out even when you plan,” he said. “Things don’t always work out the way you think they will, but you can always learn from that experience.”
Gary Chavarria, a test conductor with the Special Project Branch at Materiel Test Directorate, said the students come out to WSMR and get a feel for what a real test environment is like. “Nothing is ever perfect in a test environment. It is beneficial for students to come and have the experience,” Chavarria said. “They come out here and they become engaged and motivated to fix things. They adapt and overcome.”
Chavarria said he was very impressed with how SystemsGo engages students in the process. He said he was also very impressed by the new fire control system developed by SystemsGo.
Brett Williams, the director and founder of SystemsGo, an educational nonprofit organization that heads the Student Rocket Launch program, said the goal of the organization is to incorporate a problem-solving education philosophy into schools through project-based curriculum and teacher training.
The method of instruction, developed over a span of 12 years by Williams at Fredericksburg High School, uses problem solving and project-based learning to stimulate skills in design, development, testing, analysis and innovation. SystemGo’s training prepares teachers to guide students in developing critical thinking, problem solving, testing, and analysis skills necessary to complete year-long projects.
The classroom experience guided students through hands-on research, as well as design and development instruction within the engineering and technology design disciplines.
Marble Falls High School Instructor Randy Guffey said the students work throughout the school year and present their flight profile to NASA for approval. Once approved they start work on designing and building the rocket. He said that students focus on making sure the rocket works.
“I liked the concept on problem solving and placing responsibility on the students,” Guffey said of the SystemsGo program. “It is good live training for them. They have done a good job and I am very proud of them.”