For release: 03/23/2002
Release #: 02-131
"Let's light this candle…"
Rocket soars for local college students participating in hands-on initiative
Students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M cheered as they watched the rocket they built - and the scientific payload it carried soar into the blue sky Wednesday, May 22. The launch culminated more than a year's work by the students. The rocket was designed and built as part of the Marshall Center's Student Launch Initiative.
Photo: College rocket soars into blue (NASA/MSFC)
Editor’s Note: Students are not only launching rockets, they are launching careers in science and engineering thanks to a NASA program called the Student Launch Initiative.
If engineering is the art of applying science and math to experience, judgment, and common sense, then students on rocket teams at three Huntsville, Ala., area high schools and those from a two-university team can definitely call themselves engineers.
During the past year, the student teams have designed, built and launched rockets – and developed science payloads – as part of NASA’s Student Launch Initiative, sponsored by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. They’ve also developed Web sites, learned how to budget including how to present financial proposals to NASA engineers and community leaders and gained problem-solving and leadership skills.
“Finals” for the student teams came this spring when they headed to the launch pad to demonstrate to NASA engineers and scientists that they could successfully build vehicles capable of being launched, recovered and reused.
“The Student Launch Initiative transcends classroom learning,” says Becky Ciliax, a teacher and rocket team sponsor at Johnson High School. “It allows students to apply creativity to hands-on technology. You don’t get that in a regular class.”
Inspired by a high school rocketry program in Fredericksburg, Texas, the Marshall Center’s Student Launch Initiative is an educational activity that aims to motivate students to pursue careers in science, math and engineering while giving them practical, hands-on aerospace experience.
“Our Student Launch Initiative proves that when students are given a chance to excel, they’ll step up to the challenge a trait we need in tomorrow’s leaders,” said Marshall Center Director Art Stephenson.
The high school program kicked off last spring when students from Johnson High School, the Randolph School and Sparkman High School accepted NASA’s challenge by submitting proposals to team with Marshall engineers to build reusable rockets and launch science payloads. The educational program marked a key milestone in October 2001, when the teams first launched their rockets and payloads at a U.S. Army test range on Redstone Arsenal.
This spring the Student Launch Initiative culminated with a series of launches, again at an actual test range.
On April 27, students from the three participating high schools went to the launch pad again demonstrating the rockets’ reusability and marking a successful conclusion to their first year effort.
On May 22, students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and neighboring Alabama A&M launched their rocket and payload and cheered as it soared to a two-mile altitude, approximately a mile or more higher than the high school division rockets.
“When NASA proposed this project, I thought, ‘How can I teach this? I don’t know anything about rockets,’” says Ciliax. “But the best part was I didn’t have to know anything. We learned – together.”
Alabama A& M junior Jimmy Pleasant of Birmingham said the best part of the Student Launch Initiative has been working with NASA engineers on a project that could benefit NASA. Pleasant worked on the computer that recorded flight data from the rocket’s science payload an experiment that will measure the amount of hydrogen produced during electroplating with nickel in a brief period of microgravity that will occur during the flight. NASA’s Space Shuttle uses nickel-plating on its Main Engines.
“I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on experience that I know will help me when I begin my career in computer science,” noted Pleasant. “It’s been challenging and exciting.”
Johnson High team co-sponsor Melonie Hanson credits the Marshall Center’s rocket initiative program with helping her students choose careers. “Three of our students have received four-year scholarships to Alabama universities primarily because of their work on this project. And, all three plan to major in engineering.”
“I thank NASA and the Marshall Center for that opportunity,” says Hanson. “This program makes a real difference. Every student at our school who participated in the Student Launch Initiative benefited. In fact, many are now planning a future in science or the space industry.”
NASA uses its unique resources to support educational excellence, since education is a key element in NASA’s overall mission. The space agency participates in education outreach programs through its field centers around the country.
More information on educational opportunities with the Marshall Center can be found at:
Information about NASA’s education programs can be found at: