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Author Homer Hickam Surprises National Winners at Space Camp
Author Homer Hickam surprised the winners of the year long Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition as they celebrated at Space Camp and the US Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama.
The rocket preparation was in anticipation of the launch to occur later that day. Wind and weather permitting, they would be able to launch from Homer Hickam Launch Pad, aka Cape Coalwood South. The launch site is named after the author of the inspirational book, Rocket Boys which was made into the movie, October Sky. The autobiographical story of life and aspirations in a West Virginia coal mining town at the start of the space age has world wide appeal due to its inspirational message.
RFTS Competition director Jack Colpas states, “We promise our winners memories to last a lifetime and bragging rights for generations to come. So, getting to launch from a place of real significance is an integral part of the winners’ celebration.”
The winds were high but acceptable for launch. With assistance from Space Camp staff – Matt Green, Dexter Price and Brianna Jackson engines were loaded, primed with igniters and rockets set in position on launch rods. Everyone joined in the countdown. Upper level winds were higher than expected and Dean’s rocket drifted into the tall trees – not lost, but forever on display at Homer Hickam Launch Pad.
Next it was off to Space Camp and the US Space & Rocket Center. The Center “has one of the greatest collections of rockets and space memorabilia anywhere in the world.” The group took time to pause at the Space Shuttle Challenger memorial. The sight of the full sized Shuttle mock-up, Pathfinder on display with fuel tank and solid fuel boosters attached is impressive. The winners got a chance to experience the astronaut training devices taking a simulated “walk on the moon”, zero gravity repairs, MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) practice and, with help from Space Camp staffer Emily Firebaugh landing the Space Shuttle. Then everyone headed to the Saturn V rocket in Rocket Park for presentations and awards.
The base of the only vertically displayed Saturn V rocket in the world seemed the perfect spot to award trophies to the winners of the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition. As the group gathered - author, Viet Nam veteran and retired NASA engineer, Homer Hickam appeared to present trophies and award the winners Space Shuttle Challenger commemorative coins. The coins honor the crew of the ill fated shuttle and are emblazoned with the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe’s quote, “Reach for the stars.” Hickam in his trade mark, Rocket Boys jacket, spoke to the group, signed autographs and reminded the winners to “aim high.”
The winners also received the DVD, Blue Angels - Altitude & Attitude which helps promote aerospace careers. The video is narrated by actor, pilot and flight enthusiast, John Travolta. Travolta, who has supported the competition for several years, personally signs each copy.
Contestants in the sixth annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition had to build and launch their own solid-fuel powered rocket. The competitions were held in their area by schools, scouts, youth groups and Challenger Learning Centers. The closest average landing by parachute to a target after two launches wins the local event. Local winner’s results were then submitted to the national competition headquarters. This produced two national winners at each of the three levels. Information regarding the Competition and national winners’ celebration are at www.TheRocketman.net.
Dean Taylor (age 12) won the honors with the Boy Scouts of Colorado with Troop 101 under Scout Leader, Nancy Ericson. Dr. Warren Layfield of the Colorado Springs Rocket Society (COSROCS) assisted. Dr. Layfield is a National Association of Rocketry senior member and was honored last year for his work in the Helping Kids Reach for the Stars program.
Addie Cramer (age 13) launched with her class at Palm Beach Day Academy in Palm Beach, Florida in a competition run by teacher Tom Sarko. This is the second time Mr. Sarko guided one of his students to a national win in the RFTS Rocket Competition. According to the Palm Beach Post, Sarko taught science at Palm Beach Day Academy for the past 30 years and has a keen interest in NASA and the Space Shuttle. He applied to be the first Teacher-in-Space as did Competition director, Jack Colpas.
A third national winner, Oscar Corona (age 13) competed at the Challenger Learning Center in Framingham, Massachusetts under the direction of Mary Liscombe and Evan Pagliuca In a Competition that fosters the memory of the First Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe it is fitting that winners would be involved with the Centers that exist to “carry on the mission of the Challenger crew to inspire kids.” With help from Guidance Councilor Stephanie Miller, Oscar will receive his trophy at a celebration at Walsh Middle School in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Three other national winners, Steven Brooks, Eric Madrigal and Zachary Johnson, won the opportunity to receive trophies and launch their rockets at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida. They also celebrated with their families by visiting the Kennedy Space Center - Visitor Complex. They were awarded Space Shuttle Challenger commemorative coins by Astronaut Jerry Ross. Ross is a veteran of seven Space Shuttle missions and an incredible nine space walks.
Estes – the world leader in educational rocketry provided $1200 in prize money. The money is provided to any competitor who wins the national event using Estes rocket supplies. Estes Educator, under the direction of Ann Grimm, offers free educational materials involving rocketry, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and aerospace education. The prize money is provided to help with travel expenses. Travel funding is crucial. These kids have earned the right to attend the national winners’ celebrations.
Space Camp, the US Space & Rocket Center, DNC Parks – Astronaut Hall of Fame / Kennedy Space Center - Visitor Complex, the Hampton Inn and Estes joined together to provide unforgettable memories for the winners of the annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition. Travel money and tickets plus discounted lodging and breakfast are being provided for the winners and their families. Competition co-director Kathy Colpas states, “Without the generosity of these companies, this winners’ celebration would not be possible.”
Jack and Kathy Colpas, co-directors of the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition are retired public school educators. The goal of the competition is to give kids the unique educational experience of building and launching a solid-fuel powered rocket. The mission is to keep alive the memory of the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe. The program is designated as an Educational Outreach of the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Learning Center. For details go to www.TheRocketman.net