De Soto Rocket Club blasts off to national championship
A group of high school students from Shawnee and De Soto are launching into the world’s largest rocket competition this week.
The De Soto Rocket Club, comprised of students from both De Soto and Mill Valley high schools, are heading to the 15th annual Team America Rocketry Challenge. The team will face 99 of the top rocketry teams from across the country to claim the title of national champion.
More than 800 teams had vied for the challenge.
The TARC final fly-off will take place Saturday just outside Washington D.C.
“I was pretty excited,” said Chad Manhart, a De Soto junior from Shawnee. “We worked really hard. I mean, we get to launch a rocket and go to D.C. so it’s like an unexpected vacation before finals.”
The journey to the national competition was no vacation, however.
On a beautiful sunny afternoon last week, several members from the team met up at a field outside De Soto High School to practice launching their rocket.
While setting up the rocket for a practice launch, they reminisced about the past few months.
Hours upon hours of math, creativity, and problem-solving skills went into the design of their rocket. With just the right altitude and precise time-frame, it has to launch and land, without breaking the egg nestled inside.
“It takes a good chunk of time to design a rocket on a computer and turn that concept into reality,” said Cody Murphy, a De Soto sophomore.
After using a 3-D printer to create a few of the parts, the students pieced together their flying contraption using cardboard tubing and plastic parts.
This is the first time the team has qualified for the national fly-off since it was established in September 2013, said the Rocket Club’s co-adviser, Laura Sixta.
The team came incredibly close to qualifying in March 2016, but the altimeter failed to register the altitude of the rocket during one of the three qualifying launches, and the team ran out of rocket motors to be able to repeat the launch.
Sixta said this brief brush with glory served to further motivate the team to succeed this season.
“Despite the challenges presented by the blustery Kansas winds, the team was able to fine tune their rocket’s launch altitude and time with incredible precision,” she said. “We are hopeful that their efforts will place them among the top contenders at the competition this year.”
The competition is expected to be fierce.
TARC is the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue study and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
The competition challenges middle and high school students to design, build and fly a rocket that meets specific altitude and flight duration parameters.
This year’s rules require a rocket carrying one raw egg to reach 775 feet before returning the egg to Earth, uncracked, all within 41 to 43 seconds.
The De Soto Rocket Club will compete for more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships, and the opportunity to represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge taking place at the Paris Air Show in June.
At the international fly-off, teams from the United Kingdom, France and Japan will face the U.S. champions for the international title.
Just making it to the national competition, however, was a feat within itself, said the team’s other co-adviser, Miranda Young.
“Problem solving, innovation and collaboration were the keys to success as the team worked to research, design, build and test the rocket,” said Miranda Young, who also teaches Chemistry and Project Lead the Way at De Soto High School. “The students’ passion for STEM and the application of STEM principles has made this team among the top in the nation. I am very proud of what this team has achieved and really excited to see the team take it to the next level.”
The De Soto Rocket Club consists of Manhart, 16; Murphy, 15; Cody Moose, a De Soto junior; Zach Deibert, a De Soto junior from Shawnee and Maggie Miller, a Mill Valley junior.