Local Rocketeers Achieve Sky-high Success in NASA Student Launch Projects

Thirty-three student teams compete in rocket-building challenge.


HUNTSVILLE, AL -- On April 18, more than 350 middle school, high school, college, and university students from 17 states filled the skies over North Alabama with flame and thunder, concluding the most successful student launch event NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, has organized to date.

Marshall and its partners hosted 33 student teams for the 2008-2009 NASA Student Launch Projects. In both year-long rocket-building challenges, students construct their own vehicle, complete with working science payload, and seek to fly it to an altitude of one mile and retrieve it intact.

In the months leading up to the launch, students also produced thorough written and oral presentations on their rockets, created Web sites about their work and planned and conducted rocketry- and education-related outreach efforts in their communities.

On launch day at Bragg Farms in Toney, AL, 32 rockets successfully lifted off, nearly twice as many rockets as have ever flown in a single day of NASA student rocketeering. The team from Tuskegee University in Alabama lost theirs in a test flight prior to the event. On-board altimeters measured how high each rocket journeyed. Science experiments ranged this year from instruments that study temperature, air pollutants and the behavior of the rocket itself to built-in water tanks designed to record the sloshing behavior of liquids subjected to ascent and freefall.

Marshall's Academic Affairs Office manages the projects, which are sponsored by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ATK Space Systems of Magna, UT, provided corporate sponsorship. On launch day, the local, nonprofit Huntsville Area Rocketry Association provided technical launch support.

NASA held the first student launch event in 2001 to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As its popularity grew, in 2006 NASA created the tandem challenges of the Student Launch Initiative for middle schools and high schools and the University Student Launch Initiative for colleges and universities.

The 2009 launch event concluded April 18 with an awards banquet, funded by ATK. Awards included:

  • Best Vehicle Design: Utah State University in Logan, the 2008 university champions, took home the award for the most creative, innovative, safety-conscious rocket design.
  • Best Payload Design: Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne won for the most creative and innovative payload experiment, emphasizing safety and scientific value.
  • Project Review Award: Utah State University won this award for the second straight year, delivering the best combination of written critical design and flight readiness reviews and formal presentations.
  • Outreach Award: The University of Alabama in Huntsville won for best inspiring the study of rocketry and other spaceflight-related topics at local schools and the surrounding community.
  • Best Web Design: The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta won for the best rocketry Web site, completed on time with all relevant documentation.
  • Closest to Altitude Award: Arizona State University in Tempe came closest to the specified 1-mile altitude goal. The rocket reached an altitude of 5,293 feet -- just 13 feet off the mark.
  • Peer Awards: Student Launch Initiative and University Student Launch Initiative participants submitted votes for two awards in each division. Krueger Middle School in San Antonio, TX, and Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla were awarded the "Best-Looking Rocket" awards. Boy Scout Troop 143 of Giddings, TX, and Missouri University of Science & Technology won the "Best Team Spirit" prizes.
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