Archive for Thursday, January 31, 2002

New De Soto High School class is rocket science

January 31, 2002

Marc Krause watched nervously as his homemade rocket was placed on the launch pad last Friday.

Manning the launch control, De Soto High School science teacher Darin Schmitz counted down "3, 2, 1." And then . . . nothing.

Krause was nonplussed by the seeming failure of the two-foot tall rocket.

"It's the engine," he said. "I didn't build the engine."

A quick engine swap, and Krause's rocket was again ready to launch. It didn't disappoint. On the second try, it climbed 500 feet in air, deployed its shopping-bag parachute at the flight's apex and floated back to earth.

"Nice job, Marc," his classmates said as they congratulated his success with high fives.

"I put a lot of work into it," Krause said. The rocket's body was the cardboard core from a Christmas wrapping-paper roll, reinforced with glue. The nose cone was Styrofoam.

Schmitz said the students designed their rockets from scratch. They drew blueprints after researching the work of rocket pioneers Robert Goddard and Wernher Van Braun.

"Marc finished his rocket the third day of class," Schmitz said. "He's been asking me everyday since when we were going to launch."

Soon after Krause's success, Schmitz launched John Hall's rocket. It went in the air about 30 feet, somersaulted and slammed into the ground.

"I don't know what went wrong," he said.

The key to success, Krause said, is balancing the rocket's weight. Fins and nose cones are very important, he said.

All the elements came together on senior Adam Gossage's rocket. About a foot tall, the short rocket flew straight up to 1,200 feet before riding the wind back to earth more than 100 yards from the launch site.

"I powered it up pretty good," said Schmitz, who can vary the amount of C-4 propellant in the engines. "I was pretty sure it would fly."

Less successful efforts had Schmitz ducking for cover. The students joked they would get an F for the project if they hit the teacher.

With last Friday's strong south winds, a successful launch made for a long walk to track down the rocket. Krause, an exchange student from Germany, had a special motivation to recover his.

"I want to ship it back to Germany to my father," he said. "I wonder how much it will cost to ship it."

This is the first year De Soto High School has offered Schmitz's space exploration class. The second-semester course compliments an astronomy course Schmitz taught in the fall.

The space exploration class is available to Mill Valley High School students as well via the two schools' long-distance learning labs. It is the first shared intradistrict course to originate from De Soto.

As he watched his students return from the retrieval search, Schmitz was pleased with their interest.

"They're so excited, they're still talking about it. They'll be talking about this the rest of the semester."

The class studies physics, aerodynamics and historical science, the teacher said. The historical part is important to Schmitz.

"It amazing how many kids don't know anything about NASA," he said. "Nobody knows anything about Challenger. That's what got me interested in this. The oldest students were just babies when that happened."

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