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March Sky’s maiden voyage a success

When Jonathan Jennings learned that The Boeing Company was offering funding, with the caveat that it be used for a rocket camp, he rose to the challenge.

A mechanical and aerospace engineering major, Jennings spearheaded the first March Sky rocket camp, which took place March 21 to 23 on the campus of the University of Missouri.

Rocket

The winning rocket in the water-bottle rocket competition at the March Sky rocket camp achieved a flight of 176 feet in 4.5 seconds worth of flight time. Photo by Jonathan Jennings

“(Boeing) basically told me do whatever I wanted, just make a rocket camp. So I did,” said Jennings, president of the MU chapters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

The camp attracted 16 students ranging from fourth through 12th grades, with the participants learning the basics of model rocketry through five half-hour classes the first night, then getting a chance in the next two days to put those lessons into practice. The majority of participants were middle schoolers; nine were young women. Classwork exposed the students to information about propulsion; recovery systems, electronics and payload; simulation and the effects of forces on a rocket. In addition, the students heard lectures from and had their rockets judged by retired NASA astronauts Linda Godwin, an MU physics professor, and Steve Nagel, a resident instructor with MU’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department. MU students involved with AIAA, ASME and the Society of Women Engineers were on hand to help educate and assist.

Launch pad

Students build model rockets for flight on Day 3. Photo by Jonathan Jennings

On Day Two, students were grouped into teams to create water-bottle rockets for a competition on Francis Quadrangle. Jennings said he was very impressed with how well the students’ rockets performed, given the brevity of their instruction. “We had the judges ask them questions about stuff that they learned in the classes the night before, and they picked it up,” he said. “Not only did they pick it up, they flew some water-bottle rockets that were just amazing.”

The winner traveled 176 feet in 4.5 seconds and would have traveled farther if not for a conveniently-placed tree which kept the projectile from going too far and colliding with Jesse Hall. “It was going right for it. … I finally saw it right as it was going through the tree toward the window, and I was like, ‘Ahh!” Jennings said with a laugh.

Students then did a tour of the 3D printing lab and began work on model rockets, which they launched the following day on Day three. Later that day, some of Jennings’ own rockets up for grabs as students raced to claim them for their own upon landing. Afterward, the students viewed a demonstration of two still larger rockets, standing between six and eight feet tall and launching to a height of between 3,000 and 4,000 feet. “It was ridiculously awesome. The kids were having fun,” Jennings said.