Sylvania Northview High School students will try to channel the spirit of Homer Hickam today as they compete against students from across the country in the Team America Rocketry Challenge.
Mr. Hickam, son of a West Virginia coal miner, became a NASA engineer and wrote a book about his life, Rocket Boys, which later was retitled October Sky and made into a movie by that same name.
That was the inspiration for the Northview Rocketeers when they began experimenting with rocketry in October.
Today, in The Plains, Va., the group will compete with 100 finalists from across the county in what has been billed the world's largest model-rocket contest.
The group beat out almost 550 teams to qualify.
"I'm really excited," project manager John Borell III, a junior, said. "We worked on it for three months; now it's finally here."
Young Borell and his computer science teacher, Edward Schwerkolt, decided to begin a rocketry club after reading Mr.
Hickam's memoir about his quest to win the National Science Fair competition.
October Sky was this year's choice for an annual school tradition in which the PTA buys a book for each student. The assignment is designed as an exercise in school unity, Nancy Crandell, district spokesman, said.
"We thought it would be cool to start a club," young Borell said. "At that point, I knew nothing about rocketry."
Since then, young Borell estimates the group has conducted 50 launches with three prototypes.
For the competition, the team has constructed four identical models, using the handle of a Wiffle Ball bat, a pipe, a motor, and guiding mechanisms called fin tubes.
Their challenge is to launch a model rocket 750 feet in the air and maintain a 45-second air time. The model will carry two uncooked eggs, which must be parachuted to safety.
The top 10 placers will share a $60,000 prize and the winning team will get a trip to the Farnborough International Air Show near London.
Young Borell, freshman Diego Waxemberg, and sophomores Michael Pauken and Jessica Sharp made the journey to the Virginia town about 45 miles west of Washington for the competition.
Seniors Michael Deng, Faiz Tausif, and junior Brandi Phillips stayed behind to attend the prom.
Thursday evening, the rocketeers did three final launches before returning home to pack for the trip.
During their qualifying run in April, the team's rocket traveled 754 feet and was airborne for 55 1/2 seconds. Since then, the group has been tinkering, hoping to come as close to the goal height and time as possible.
Uncontrollable factors, like wind, could play a big role in the group's success today, Mr. Schwerkolt said. But the team is optimistic.
"There's so many variables, it's unbelievable," he said. "Luck can play a big role." He added: "This is a lucky team."
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