Students from Booker T. Washington High School for Engineering Professions almost didn't get to launch their rocket during a Student Rocket Launch June 29 at White Sands Missile Range due to problems with the rocket days before the launch -- but in the end their rocket successfully took off.
White Sands Missile Range hosted a group of five Texas area high schools for a final test of their rockets as part of the SystemsGo program the week of July 26 to 30.
T-Bone Turner, project manager for BTW's Golden Eagle 6 rocket, said they kept failing the pressure test, which checks for leaks.
"We did that test three times here at the site and failed all three. Then we had to test it again the next day and failed it three more times," Turner said. "Then the last time before we were going to call the launch and abort completely, we passed."
"It feels wonderful, amazing. I'm ecstatic that we got it (to launch)," Turner said.
Kenya Davis, an 11th grade student at BTW, said she knew they were going to have success. "We worked really hard on it," she said.
Turner said leading the BTW team was stressful. "There were a lot of times where we all dropped the ball, but when I dropped the ball it really hurt the team, and I had my fair share of (lectures)," he said. "But we made it here. We came together in the end, got the rocket on the launch pad and got it to take off."
Turner said his biggest lesson was learning how to work with a team. "Even though you may get upset at each other, you have to keep a level head and work with your team."
Carlos R. Phillips II, principal at BTW, said this experience is an opportunity to expose the students to something that can be a great career. "(This is) something that takes our students out of their natural environment and broadens their horizon," he said.
Coming from San Antonio, Texas, Alamo Heights High School's rocket was dubbed "the rocket that could" by WSMR support staff due to the fact that it took its time leaving the launch pad.
"With all the struggles we've gone through it is really exciting that it got off the launch pad," said Alissa Bennet, a student with Alamo Heights. "Sometimes (even) NASA doesn't do that. It's exciting."
Before the launch, Evan Atlas, a senior from AH, had hopes their rocket would fly.
"Our rocket is big, we have a whole new injection system," he said.
Atlas said the team had worked since December to design and fabricate the rocket. "Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong," he said. "We were grounded for a day because we had a faulty ignition wire. It's just been rough. On top of that we had to make three pistons, two housings and patch holes. It's been an experience."
Drew Yockey, project manager for this year's Alamo Heights' rocket, said their rocket was 20 and a half feet long and 652 pounds fully fueled.
Yockey said being the project manager was really frustrating at times because there were times when they had a lot of help and were getting things done, but then by the middle of the year it died off. "It was a task trying to get people to come in and work on (the rocket) and actually get the hours we needed to get here," he said.
Students were required to have 120 hours logged in working on the rocket in order to qualify. In the end 21 students made it to the launch.
"It's been an ordeal getting it out here," he said.
Yockey said this experience has taught him a lot about time management and money management. He said originally they had stayed within their budget, but with the problems they had they ended up spending more money on parts and things that broke.
Yockey, who graduated this year, said he is going to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, and study aerospace engineering. He said other members of the team are also going there, to include the entire injection team.
WSMR has a memorandum of understanding with SystemsGo that allows students to come test their rockets at no cost to the project.
SystemsGo is an educational non-profit organization that heads the Student Rocket Launch program. 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 twelve years uses problem solving and project-based learning to stimulate skills in design, development, testing, analysis and innovation.
SystemsGo 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.
Students worked closely with Gary Chavarria, WSMR test conductor and lead test conductor for the program's launch, giving them an opportunity to experience the testing process.
For every test mission, the range provides: range control, communication, escort, access to the range, test operation, test conduct and surveillance optics and radar tracking.
Chavarria, who has been working with the program since 2008, said he looks forward to the event every year. He said this experience, especially at a high school level, is a wonderful concept because it gives the students test experience in a real-world setting and allows them to make real-time decisions.
"The most important thing is to get an idea of how a test goes," he said. "This experience teaches them critical thinking and troubleshooting and it helps them to really be able to crunch down and work together. What can go wrong will go wrong and it really helps to be out there in the field."