Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Model Rocketry

    Today I turn my eye on my favorite hobby, and one that I feel has a bad reputation. Decades of stereotypical destruction has diminished this valuable and wonderful hobby to one reserved for the estranged of society. It is a hobby of long waits and exciting minutes, a hobby of patient preparation and sound-fast ballistics. I speak of the hobby of Model Rocketry. In today’s world, this hobby has been pushed to the sidelines, the stereotype of a rocket being used more than the observation of the actual product to base judgments upon the hobby. Sadly, the truth cannot be more opposite. Though Model Rocketry is seen as a dangerous, lethal hobby based on the stereotype of the rocket, it is actually an intriguing, unique hobby that teaches values of community, consequence, and ballistics.
    Bombs bursting in air. Air raid sirens. People running from something so fast they can’t see it. Entire sections of forest in Vietnam disappearing in a haze of fire and pressure. These are still prevalent views in society when somebody says “rocket”. Let me paint a different picture.
    “The summer is already half burned away, a trail of bliss in its wake. The monthly launch is this Saturday, bring your friends. It’s over in Hoschton, only an hour out of town. It’ll be hot, and it’d be a good idea to bring waterproof boots. On the day of the launch, a row of cars parks toward a runoff creek, which drains into a river bordering the field. The smell of soil hits my nose as I leave the truck, and begin hammering stakes into the ground on the right, 15 feet away from control panel, two feet apart, in groups of four . I put four more stakes on the left side, then walk out another thirty feet, where I put eight more in the same manner. four larger setups are placed farthest away. Then, people attach the pads and  launch rods, blast deflectors, and wires. As this occurs, people catch up on how they were doing, laughing and making mistakes while laughing, then quickly fixing said mistakes. After everyone helps set up the myriad of wires, the event can begin. people sign the cards, and put them on the signboard. After a wish for luck, they slide their prize down the rod, hook it up to the igniters, and go back to the line. when all is ready, the first sweat beads would have been dancing down their faces, heralding the start of a hot summer day. As the first dozen rockets arc for the sky, the day continues to build. rocket after rocket goes to its altitude, a symphony of smoke and heat,  on an already beautifully hot day.”
    Okay, did anyone believe that? To be honest, it sounds romanticized, and, since I am advertising rocketry in this post, I might as well tell you it is. One day, we had to carry everything a quarter mile because the park rangers wouldn’t let us drive on the field. Did I mention the heat index was in the 90’s on this day? But I digress.
    Let me give you an example of the disjointed view of rocketry:
“My father went into my middle school principal’s office and asked if he could post up flyers for the rocket club. He explained the safety measures, the $2 million in liability coverage, etc. The principal was ecstatic, and said he’d pass it by the board. One day later, the principal called him into his office and said ‘The board said that what you’re proposing is way too dangerous, and could harm the children. If you were to propose a more family-oriented activity, I’d run it by them again’. At this time, an eighth grader walks by, her leg in a cast. My father asked her what she did to herself, and she replied, ‘Oh, it’s just a break from soccer practice. It’ll heal in a couple weeks’.”
    If you don’t see the irony in that statement, you can take your computer and give it to a river.
    The thing that keeps this hobby from progressing is its stereotype. When I say “rocket”, most people see the V2, or the Apollo program, or a smoke trail leading into a mushroom cloud. Any and all of these are correct assumptions, though I’d beg to append “lethal”, “large”, and “explosive” to the front of these examples. In my basement, my family has over twenty-five rockets, but of a much smaller scale, and of much less deadly intent. The rockets in the hobby of Model Rocketry are flown with much smaller motors, are made from wood, plastic, and varying strengths of fiberglass (NEVER metal), and are required to come down less than twenty-two feet per second. In order to accomplish this, we employ ejection of a parachute or streamer (a sliver of cloth or plastic). The motors are prepared professionally in a way that inhibits any malfunction, and there is a minimum radius from the rocket that must never be breached while the pad is live (such radius is formed by calculating how far a piece of shrapnel can fly from a rocket, then adding a large percent. It’s specific to each motor). Each rocket is screened by an experienced person in the hobby, and if said person does not see the rocket as fit for launch, he can point the applicant to someone to help him.
   If the rocket passes all of above said statements, it gets set onto the pad, the igniter is set up, and That Moment happens:
    Now, whereas rocketry is easily the most thrilling hobby I can think of, it also teaches consequence of improper preparation. this is the same rocket, but the launch happened much differently:
    Rest in peace. As far as I know, the men who built that have rebuilt it completely since this video’s post. I will NOT miss its next flight. I do not believe I have seen it fly. At least, not successfully. I digress again...
   The rocket above was, if the motor was built commercially, worth at least a thousand dollars. My father had a stake in that rocket, and when it CATO’d (CATastrophic Overload (of the motor)), he lost upwards of a hundred dollars. In any size rocket, as in any hobby, you run the risk of it getting damaged. Rockets, though, just break more often. A broken fin when it lands, or, if ejection does not occur, the rocket breaks into a thousand pieces on impact with earth. My father always tells audiences that rocketry helps kids get unstuck from their computers and “Nintendoes”(thanks, dad); he also tells audiences that it teaches responsibility and consequences. “If you build it wrong, it won’t be allowed to fly. Sometimes, we let it fly and it still doesn’t fly right. Rocketry teaches people [consequences of their actions].”
   Time to end this. Model Rocketry has been obscure and ridiculed for too long. I can’t exactly say the stereotype is undeserved because, most likely, someone’s been killed by explosive missiles today, or at least this week. The distinction is made between the lethal and model varieties of rockets. The model rockets are, well, models of the actual thing. You don’t see model boats casting nets, or model submarines sinking model warships. It’s just a hobby, much like any Varsity sport. Also, Model Rocketry’s track record is much cleaner than any Varsity sport’s. Ever since its inception, nobody has died, or been severely injured by a model rocket malfunction, including said rocket coming in from altitude (or, Lawndarting), the motor exploding (a CATO), or anything else. (three people got severely injured, and none of them were following procedure: one man fell out of a tree, and two others got electrocuted recovering their rockets.) The hobby is growing fast in North Georgia, and I hope to see it grow much, much larger. In Southern Area Rocketry (SoAR, NAR # 571), the membership was less than thirty ten years ago. now it’s over 150. How much larger can it grow? I promise you, most schools in Georgia have never heard of Model Rocketry before. It’s one of those exceptions. I’d like to see that flip. More on this topic later. 

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