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New camp teaches basics of rocketry to Columbia Public Schools students

A man in a hat looking at the camera, taking a break from building pieces.

AIAA and ASME Mizzou chapter president Jonathan Jennings assembles pieces at the AIAA rocket team’s competition in July. AIAA will host a rocket camp for high school-age students this fall.

A group of Columbia high school students will have the opportunity to learn all the necessary skills to build and launch a rocket, thanks to Mizzou engineering students.

About 20 students from Columbia Public Schools will learn the basics of designing a rocket, build the fins and compete to see whose rocket will go the farthest.

Jonathan Jennings, a senior mechanical engineering student, is the mastermind behind the camp.

“Hopefully the rockets don’t go too much further than the columns. We’re launching from the corner of the Quad. It might, though,” Jennings said. “Then all we have to worry about are windows.”

Jennings is president of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and American Society of Mechanical Engineers chapters on campus. The two clubs are co-sponsoring the event.

Beyond getting children more interested in the possibilities of engineering, Jennings said his goal is to get Mizzou engineers in both groups he leads to be more involved in hands-on activities and competitions. AIAA began competing in rocket competitions again last year after a five-year hiatus.

“I’m trying to expand what we do,” Jennings said. “ASME is the biggest club in MAE but we don’t compete in anything so what’s the point? They can give a Gaussian curve but they can’t turn a screwdriver. I’m trying to break them of that.”

The teens who participate in the program will divide into teams and design the fins for a two-liter water bottle rocket. They’ll compete in four teams of five. Steve Nagel, a former NASA astronaut and engineering faculty member, plans to judge the competition. He said he got involved because he enjoys working with students.

“My hope is that the students will not only learn about rockets but also about working on a team to complete a project,” Nagel said. “After spending some time with our students, they will hopefully be motivated to study engineering here at Mizzou.”

With what they learn, the children will be qualified to get a first level certification from the Tripoli Rocketry Association, which certifies members to launch non-professional high-power rockets. Jennings said the safety equipment — gloves and goggles — has already been purchased. He’s in the process of constructing a second water bottle rocket launcher for the competition.

The camp attendees will be sent home with a rocket, including the nosecone, parachutes and cords. Jennings, who grew up in Columbia, said there’s never been an opportunity like this one.

“They did not have cool stuff like this in Columbia when I was in school,” he said. “There needs to be more things to get kids in Columbia interested in space and aerospace.”

Jennings said he hopes the event will eventually be held twice a year but for now, it’s scheduled to be an annual event.

Funding support for the camp comes from Boeing, which gave $2,000 dollars to the club for that purpose.

“I’m literally spending $2,000 on rockets for kids,” Jennings said.