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Rocket City Record

Before an approximate crowd of about 2,500 spectators, the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center launched itself into the history books, literally. This previous July 2019, Space Camp attendees attempted to launch 5,000 rockets, 77 of which misfired. With iconic music from 1969 playing, the nearly 5,000 rockets were launched shortly after 8:32 a.m. – the exact moment the Saturn V lifted from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969. The previous Guinness World Record of 4,231 model rockets was set by Teylingen College during a European Space Science Convention in the Netherlands, in 2018. It would take a 12-16 week verification process to make the feat official.

In order to officially set the record, there was certain criteria that had to be met; use commercially available rockets and build them following basic manufacturer guidelines, pass 30 meters (or about 100 feet) in altitude, and have independent specialist verify the counting method. The rockets were Estes Pathfinder rockets that are 15-inches in length, weigh 1.4 ounces total, with 2.6 grams of propellant each, according to the rocket center.

In the wake of Sputnik, amateur rocketry has been a major hobby.One of the first organizations set up in the US to engage in amateur rocketry was the Pacific Rocket Society established in California in the early 1950's. The group did their research on rockets from a launch site deep in the Mojave Desert.In the summer of 1956, 17-year-old Jimmy Blackmon of Charlotte, North Carolina, built a 6-foot rocket in his basement. The rocket was designed to be powered by combined liquid nitrogen, gasoline, and liquid oxygen. On learning that Blackmon wanted to launch his rocket from a nearby farm, the Civil Aeronautics Administration notified the U.S. Army. Blackmon's rocket was examined at Redstone Arsenal and eventually grounded on the basis that some of the material he had used was too weak to control the flow and mixing of the fuel.

Currently, amateur rockets nearly always employed either black powder, zinc-sulfur, also called "micrograin", or rocket candy propellant mixtures. However, such amateur rockets can be dangerous because noncommercial rocket motors may fail more often than commercial rocket motors if not correctly engineered.As knowledge of modern advances in composite and liquid propellants became more available to the public, it became possible to develop amateur motors with greater safety. Hobbyists were no longer dependent on dangerous packed-powder mixtures that could be delicate and unpredictable in handling and performance.

The Reaction Research Society conducts complex amateur rocket projects, utilizing solid, liquid, and hybrid propellant technologies. The Tripoli Rocketry Association sanctions some amateur activities, which they call "research rocketry," provided certain safety guidelines are followed, and provided the motors are of relatively standard design.

Just as the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo missions galvanized a nation in the 1960's and inspired a generation of youth to aspire to become scientists and astronauts, today's youth are possessed by the same zeal to aspire to even greater heights. In attendance to the rocket launch record setting was a young Maxwell Ealons, of Washington D.C. Maxwell Ealons attended Space Camp while his mother, Mrs. Drucilla Harris Ealons visited family in Birmingham, Alabama. "I was kind of worried for a moment when I didn't hear from him much and he called and said that he needed more money", according to his mother who is also an attorney in D.C.. Apparently Maxwell had been bitten by the space bug while visiting the gift shop. Maxwell Ealons was one of thousands of youth that either attended Space Camp or attended other events over the course of the week commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Lunar Landing.

This clearly shows that today's youth are more than capable of meeting the demands of the US holding the cutting edge of space technology and development. Technology and scientific discovery are changing more rapidly than ever before. What is needed to meet this growing demand and challenges of the future are a robust STEM curriculum throughout the nation, combined with a sense of national pride and scientific obligation. America's economy, educational system, and national defense greatly depend on meeting the ever increasing scientific advances. It is the STEM fields, more so than the industrial sector of decades ago that will create jobs. In order for the US to remain competitive, it will have to construct a scientifically literate and dominant population of STEM driven employees and companies.

STEM occupations are growing at a rate of 17% while other fields are growing at 9.8% according to the Department of Commerce. A STEM based curriculum and education produces critical and analytical thinkers. This in turn compels those who are scientifically and technologically literate. Advances in medicine, science, electronics, engineering, and technology will be the basis of a progressive 21st century. The Space and Rocket Center is the premier vehicle that gives attendees a hands on approach to the technologies that will drive the 21st century, from the Space Camp, Aviation Challenge, and now Robotics Camp.

"I have had an interest in going to Mars and I figured going to Space Camp would give me a good perspective on how to be an astronaut.", according to Maxwell Ealons. His sentiments echoes those of current and former astronauts and those employed in STEM fields that are alumni of Space Camp. According to Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO and Executive Director of the Space and Rocket Center, from its beginning in 1982, nearly one million people have attended from around the world. STEM is truly a force multiplier as far as bridging cultural, racial, ethnic, and class barriers.

"What I liked most about Space Camp is the opportunity to make new friends and I was able to overcome my fear of heights to ride the moon shot. Yes, I would really like to return to space camp and I'm very interested in the aviation challenge.", according to Mr. Ealons. Being a part of this historical event clearly sparked deeper interests from the attendees. These are the sentiments that Space Camp counselors seek to generate and promote. Everyone wants to be a part something greater than themselves, particularly events that outlive the participants. The Apollo mission was partly to best the Soviets. But its historical legacy and impact still lives on 50 years later. "It was pretty cool to help set a world record...and it was really cool to meet Astronaut Buzz Aldrin.", Mr. Ealons also explains. The official confirmation by the Guiness officials will be coming forward over the next few weeks of 2020.

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