Having a Blast in 2020: Part 2

Having a Blast in 2020 – Part II


The Journey of A Thousand Feet Begins with a Single Stomp

My last post explained how my kids became Youtube rocket-launch junkies. As time went by, they wanted to get their hands dirty (sooty, gluey, greasy…). Here’s how their rocket careers got (increasingly higher) off the ground…

Although they’ve loved flying projectiles ever since we started feeding them bananas, their first sustainable foray into rocketry was with classic stomp rockets. For the uninitiated, stomp rockets are foam rockets launched into the air by a step (or flying leap) on the connected air bladder. The good thing about these rockets is that there is almost no way to do damage to walls or furniture with them, should they “happen” to be launched indoors… and they still go reasonably high when launched outdoors. Other than having to retrieve several projectiles from the roof, almost nothing can go wrong. The boys still like playing with them.

My son shows off his stomp rocket launch assembly

Of course, after a while the off-the-shelf option loses its novelty, and the rockets lose their fins. That’s when I found this cool activity for making your own custom paper rockets and launch assembly… from Jet Propulsion Labs, no less. For a few bucks, a soda bottle, and a quick trip to the hardware store, you can truly make a NASA-approved launch vehicle at home. The main advantage of this is that you can design, build, and deck out your own rocket. It really feels like an engineering project. Or at least a craft project with booster rockets. As a bonus, you can use the altitude tracker to calculate the height your rocket travels, so you can compare different designs. My older son named his series of rockets the “Zoos” rockets, an interesting play on NASA’s Mercury/Apollo Greek deity theme.

The boys’ homemade rocket display. Some of these never actually cleared the tower.

So this worked well for a while, but we found out we don’t go through soda quickly enough. We’re too health conscious to drink it much (or let our kids), but I’m too cheap to buy it and dump the soda down the drain just for the bottle… even for the cause of providing jet propulsion. But that’s when we enlisted the help of our good friend George, who happens to be a STEM professor at Virginia Western College. For years he has encouraged our kids’ scientific inquiries. (in our house, scientific inquiries include “Mom, can I have a robot to clean my room?”) But George recently partnered with us to execute our first Estes rocket launches. Estes rockets, if you didn’t know, are a classic brand of model rockets that are powered by small motors that resemble fireworks.

Together, we purchased the launch kit, engines, and rockets. At this point, we discovered that some assembly is required, along with, of course, a custom paint job applied by our kids. The good news is the rocket bodies are indefinitely reusable as long as they hold together, although each launch does require a new engine. 

Then, it was time to pick the launch site. The more empty space the better, since you have to chase down the rocket when it lands… so the obvious choice for us was Green Hill Park, with its acres of open fields. 

Set up the launch pad, have the kids man the launch controller, start the countdown… 

LIFTOFF! It truly is impressive to see these rockets fly a thousand feet into the air!  No doubt the other folks at the park were entertained as we raced across the fields to catch our rockets as they gently floated down to earth on their parachutes. But that’s ok, because our kids have been discussing, drawing, acting out, and re-living the launch experience for the last several days. We are already planning our next launch date; Estes rockets come in progressively larger and more powerful sizes, so we have a long and fruitful career in front of us. Also, thankfully, Crossroads Hobbies and Crafts in west Salem is available for all our model rocket replacement equipment needs.

Our boys are far from the first to be inspired by rockets. Among many aspiring astrophysicists over the years, Homer Hickam and his Rocket Boys have a particularly remarkable story to tell.

If you see us at Green Hill Park, watch out for descending model rocket pieces…

Other Blue Ridge, Two Kids: Tales of a Roanoke Dad Posts

Tim Carr

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