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CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls High School’s six-member rocket club team has spent countless hours preparing for its next launch.

But when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is hosting the event, you can’t be too ready.

The Science, Technology And Rocketry Students team will leave Tuesday night for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., with its high-powered 8-foot tall, 4.5-inch diameter fiberglass rocket. From Thursday through Saturday, the S.T.A.R.S. team will be participating in the NASA Student Launch.

Last spring, the team was chosen for the event based on its performance at a national student rocketry competition. It was one of 15 high school and 45 university teams chosen.

Team members not only needed to design and build their rocket, they had to write reports and go through reviews with NASA’s Student Launch panel at the end of each of the project’s four phases.

“It’s been pretty hard,” said junior Randev Goonesekere. “Making sure that everything is up to the NASA requirements is hard.”

Senior Ryan Ritter said the team met every Tuesday during the lunch hour and regularly put in time on the project after school. The day before their first practice launch in February, he and senior Will Burken spent 12 hours working on the rocket.

Other students on the team spent less time, but “everyone kind of made an appearance,” he said. The rest of the team consists of juniors Erik Walther, Andre Bryan and Duncan Meyer.

Some of what the students needed to do went beyond the skills any of them had. “The (computer) coding for it all has been super confusing,” said Burken.

Fortunately, the Iowa Space Grant Consortium gave the team funding that provided some assistance with that and the electronics work. University of Northern Iowa senior Ryan Holzapfel has been working with the team a couple days per week on those issues since December. He also has been involved in building a ground station that data from the rocket will be transmitted to during the approximately mile-high flight.

A gyroscope in the rocket will sense its tilt during flight, which will be relayed to the team on the ground through a transmitter. The ground station, which will include a smaller model of the rocket, “will imitate what the rocket is doing in the air,” said adviser Zeb Nicholson, a Cedar Falls High School teacher.

“No team has ever tried to interact with the rocket by sending radio transmissions like we do,” he said. “We’ve been told that might help us stand out.”

The group will arrive in Huntsville Wednesday and have a launch readiness review the next day, where the rocket will be inspected to ensure it is prepared for flight. In the following days, the team will get to hear from a number of speakers, tour the Marshall Space Flight Center and visit an associated museum. Their rocket launch is happening Saturday.

Ritter speaks for the team when asked how they’re feeling as their departure for the NASA center draws near: “I think we’re all pretty excited,” he said.


Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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