The 11 children, ages 8-14, were gathered around the tables as Tracy LeCompte, extension agent with Cabarrus County 4-H Youth Development, explained how to build a stomp rocket from a piece of card stock.
“If you wrap it around the dowel too tightly, it will not be able to slide enough to launch from the pad, if it is too loose it will not seal the air, and it won’t lift off,” she said.
The young builders were attending Rocket Camp, during the last week of the Cabarrus County 4-H Summer Fling classes and camps, at the Cabarrus Cooperative Extension office this month. It was one of many camps offered by Cabarrus 4-H throughout the year.
At Rocket Camp, the young scientists learned about propulsion, aerodynamics and physics while having fun with rockets.
Early that morning, the group started with straw rockets, made from wrappers that straws come in, which were launched with the campers’ breath. They learned that by adding small fins to the paper tubes, the rockets would fly farther.
Once the fuselage was complete, the nose cone was the next step. Some added fins made out of duct tape, which added weight, that could aid or hinder flight depending on how it was used. Once the participants had their rockets completed, the challenge was given.
Similar to the 2014 National Youth Experiment, the children were tasked with making a rocket capable of delivering a fragile payload – one fully intact Dorito tortilla chip – to people stuck on a deserted island, propelled by the air of a stomp rocket.
“You only get one chance,” said LeCompte, “unless your Dorito stays intact, then you might get a second chance.”
Using what they could find among the materials provided and the recycle bin in the office, the builders configured holders to attach to their rockets. Some of the configurations did better than others. Zahria Shipp, 12, used a clothespin to clamp a folded piece of Styrofoam to hold her chip.
A few tried taping empty marker cartons to the side of their rockets, which ended up acting like a wing and sent the rocket too far. Ethan Moreno, 10, and Noah Sorg, 10, decided to use card stock to build a small box to hold the payload.
Ethan made two boxes, one on each side of his rocket, to balance the weight. But when he launched the rocket, the air resistance of the boxes sheared them both off, leaving them near the launch pad as the fuselage sailed on.
Noah, having built rockets before, had an edge in this competition. Using only one holder on the front of the rocket was part of his strategy. “I had more weight on the back than in the front so that the front could fly through the air smoother and it would tilt over so that it would land on the back seam,” he said.
Noah’s rocket had cleared the launch pad, as the apparatus – an empty 2-liter soda bottle connected to a few short lengths of PVC pipe – fell to pieces. His calculations were correct as his rocket landed in the grass, touching the newspaper target with his payload intact. “He made it to the beach, “ shouted LeCompte.
The experiment concluded with no other rockets reaching the island. Afterward the scientists went back to work on building their next rockets, ones that would be propelled by gunpowder-fired engines.
The group ended their day with a trip to Frank Liske Park, launching several of the engine powered rockets along with the participants’ interest in science.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on Cabarrus County 4-H Youth Development programs, go to http://cabarrus.ces.ncsu.edu/categories/4-h-youth-development/