I have been incredibly lucky to be a member of a team of six amazing students known as the Rocket Owls, dedicated to designing, building and launching a six-foot long, 4-inch diameter rocket for the NASA University Student Launch Initiative. We have been working together for the past nine months and everything culminated with our final launch competition in Alabama on April 21.
We competed with 35 other community colleges and universities with the goal of launching a scientific payload to a height of one mile. Although we didn’t win any prizes, our success was our involvement in the program, which is extremely competitive, and our impeccable flight on launch day.
Our team attended the five day event in Alabama from April 17 to the 21. During our stay, we were invited to attend tours of the different NASA facilities, which kept the trip pretty eventful. When we weren’t going on tours or lectures, we were busy pulling all-nighters prepping the rocket.
The day after we arrived, we had a welcoming ceremony and visited the structures where rocket engines are tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center. We also toured the Propulsion Center. After the tours we had our Launch Readiness Review. The LRR was the last review we had to complete to confirm that we would be able to launch. This review is essentially an inspection of the recovery procedure and components of our rocket. The NAR official that inspected our rocket was very happy with everything and declared that we were good to go!
The next day, we visited the NASA advanced manufacturing facility and learned about additive manufacturing, friction stir welding, and the new Space Launch System. After the tour, we participated in the rocket fair, where each team set up a booth and were able to see what the other teams had been working on for the past eight months.
After the fair, we briefly watched a test flight of the new Mighty Eagle which was really incredible. The lander soared to 30 meters and hovered there for a few seconds before landing.
On April 20 the team attended a banquet at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with all of the USLI teams. The banquet was held under the Saturn V, used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs from 1967 until 1973. This was an amazing experience.
We heard from several speakers including the astronaut Charles Precourt who shared the opportunities that await those pursuing an engineering degree. He also shared photos of his adventures on the international space station and the memories that went along with them. He has spent more than 932 hours in space, and one of the missions he flew on was the first mission to take a digital camera into space.
On launch day our team woke up early and loaded our rocket and luggage as we would be boarding the plane directly after the launch. Our rocket, known as Archimedes, performed beautifully. This was actually our first completely successful flight. We were not the closest team to a mile, but we were very close with an altitude of 5396 feet.
The entire project was amazing. I learned so much throughout these past nine months and I will never forget the incredible memories and experiences. I have grown immensely and made life-long friends that I am so excited to work with in the future. I know that we are all going to go far, and I can’t wait for what the future has in store for us.