HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Though gusting winds delayed the countdown for a day, young rocketeers from all over America gathered undaunted in a sunny North Alabama cornfield April 17 to launch 39 rockets they designed and built themselves during this school year.
The 2010-11 NASA Student Launch Projects rocketry challenge drew more than 500 students from middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities in 23 states. They vied to see whose rocket could come closest to the 1-mile altitude goal and safely return its onboard science payload to Earth. Forty-four teams took part, though five faced mechanical or technical issues and did not launch. Ten preliminary awards were presented, and the grand prize -- $5,000 from ATK Aerospace Systems in Salt Lake City, Utah -- will be awarded in May after final post-flight analysis and review are complete.
This year's preliminary awards, sponsored by ATK, included:
-- Best Vehicle Design: Utah State University in Logan received the award for the most creative, innovative, safety-conscious rocket design.
-- Best Payload Design: For the second straight year, Vanderbilt University in Nashville won the award for the most creative and innovative payload experiment, emphasizing safety and scientific value. Vanderbilt's experiment involved using a novel, liquid-nitrogen injection system during its rocket flight to simulate the working behavior of an airplane engine at cruising altitude.
-- Best Web Design: One-man "team" Lucas Kalathas from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania -- who built his school's rocket and payload, designed its website and conducted all outreach activities and design and launch reviews himself -- won the award for the best rocketry website: www.shipusli.com. The team from Fisk University in Nashville received an honorable mention for its site: www.faamt.com.
-- Project Review Award: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston was honored for delivering the best combination of written preliminary design, critical design and flight readiness reviews and formal presentations.
-- Education Engagement Award: The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa team won for best inspiring the study of rocketry and other space-related topics. The team held 19 events during the current school year, reaching nearly 3,200 students in local classrooms and community groups. Collectively, this year's teams reached more than 21,000 young people with presentations and exhibits about their rocket-building efforts.
-- Closest to Altitude Award: The team from the University of Central Florida in Orlando received the university-level award for coming closest to the specified 1-mile altitude goal. The rocket reached an altitude of 5,210 feet -- just 70 feet off the mark. Though the high school challenge is not a competition, event organizers also recognized a new team, Rockwall-Heath High School of Rockwall, Texas, for setting a new closest-to-altitude record: 5,264 feet, just 16 feet shy of a perfect 1-mile-high launch.
-- Peer Awards: All rocket teams submitted votes for peer awards in each division. The "Best-Looking Rocket" awards went to the returning team from Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla., and to the Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla -- which previously won the same honor in 2008 and 2009. The "Best Team Spirit" prizes were awarded to Hart County 4-H's Team Noble from Munfordville, Ky., and the "Rocket Girls" of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
All prize-winning teams received plaques and participation trophies from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which organizes the yearly challenge, and ATK.
The final two university division awards -- "Rookie Team of the Year" and "Best Overall Team of the Year" -- will be presented after teams have submitted their post-launch review documentation and science payload reports, due May 9. NASA and ATK will pick the 2010-11 winner based on those final reports -- plus all the work teams did leading up to launch day.
The NASA event, which turned 10 this year, celebrates innovative young minds and seeks to inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Teams designed and built their rockets and experiments starting in fall 2010. They maintained websites to document the experience and visited schools and organizations in their communities to share their enthusiasm for rocketry and inspire younger students to pursue study of technical subjects critical to the work of NASA and the nation.
Hundreds of flight enthusiasts flocked to the launch site at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala., to cheer for the student rocketeers. More than 40,000 viewers also watched live via the streaming video service UStream. Archived launch day coverage is available at:
NASA held the first student launch event in 2000-01. In response to its growing popularity, NASA expanded it in 2006, creating one division for middle schools and high schools and another for colleges and universities.
On May 21, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., will host a pilot demonstration of a new "Level 2" university challenge. Three veteran rocket teams -- the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Mississippi State University in Starkville and Mitchell Community College in Statesville, N.C. -- will fly rockets to a goal height of 10,000 feet and make a water recovery off the Virginia coast. The pilot event is set for May 21.
The Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Office, part of the Office of Human Capital, manages the rocketry challenge. The project is sponsored by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Space Operations Mission Directorate, Science Mission Directorate and the Education Flight Projects Office in NASA's Office of Education, all at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ATK provided corporate sponsorship. The National Association of Rocketry provided technical review and launch support. Bragg Farms has hosted the launch challenge since 2008.
For complete lists of participating students, visit:
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For more information about NASA education projects, visit: www.nasa.gov/education