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Mizzou Engineering student careers receive boost from rocket launching competition

AIAA team Chairman Ryan Goold holds the 10-pound payload that Mizzou Engineering’s “Truman I” rocket will carry during an intercollegiate rocket launching competition aimed at preparing engineering students to serve the growing number of space travel providers. Photo by Vicki Hodder

Space travel isn’t just for government anymore, many enthusiasts believe.

That belief helped spark a national rocket launching contest in which Mizzou Engineering’s student aeronautics team will compete for the first time later this month. The MU American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) student chapter has built a 10-foot tall rocket that can climb nearly two miles into the atmosphere in hopes of winning top honors at the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association’s (ESRA) Intercollegiate Rocket Launch Competition on June 26-27 near Green River, Utah.

“We just decided to go a whole new route with rockets, and tackle a new challenge,” said outgoing AIAA Chairman Ryan Goold, who received a mechanical and aerospace engineering degree last month. “I hope to spark interest in returning members to continue researching rockets.”

As does ESRA, the not-for-profit organization sponsoring the third annual competition. ESRA, formed in 2003 by Utah State University faculty members and students to promote science and engineering education, aims to prepare aerospace engineering students throughout the country to serve commercial space travel providers.

Since the first private rocket ship took flight a few years ago, the private sector has started exploring the commercial possibilities of privately sponsored research, tourist and business space flights, said ESRA competition organizer Paul Mueller, an adjunct assistant professor at Utah State University.

“We think commercial space…is going to take a much larger role in the future,” Mueller said.

Companies will need engineers who can build the hardware, motors and rocket engines required to fuel privately-funded space travel, he said. ESRA’s rocket launching competition is one of only a handful of rocket launching contests across the country to offer students hands-on competition experience in that field, Mueller said.

Mizzou mechanical and aerospace engineering senior Geoff Glidden relishes the experience of having helped build the team’s 95-pound rocket, which must be capable of carrying a payload of 10 pounds at least 10,000 feet high. It’s reminiscent of the model rockets with which most team members are familiar, but considerably more challenging, he said.

“Just to do that on a much larger scale is exciting,” Glidden said.