VCS Students Win National Model Rocket Competition

picture of students receiving awards

DELAND – Pine Ridge High School students Alyssa Richardson and Daniel Coursen are among six national winners in the 14th annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition and have been invited to celebrate at Space Camp/U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama this fall.

Each student who participates builds his or her own solid-fuel powered rocket. The rockets are launched twice. The students won when the average of the two launches landed closest to the target, a golf tee placed 50 feet from the launch pad. The competition was funded through a Mini Grant from the FUTURES Foundation for Volusia County Schools and the school’s JROTC program.

The rockets were launched on the Pine Ridge football field. The distance from the target was 14 feet 6 inches for Richardson and 15 feet 6 inches for Coursen. Richardson is a junior, and Coursen is a sophomore; both live in Deltona.

“The competition is all about accuracy and protecting the ‘human resource’ in the rocket,” said Pine Ridge Media/Technology Specialist Tina Hackey, who organized the school’s participation.

“The students launch their rockets twice, and they use what they’ve learned about trajectory and wind to aim for the target,” Hackey said. “The rockets go up to 150 feet in the air, so it’s pretty remarkable how close to the target they can get.”

Hackey’s students have competed in the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition for the past 10 years, and she’s had several national winners over the years. She moved to Volusia County and joined the faculty at Pine Ridge two years ago, but the competition was not held last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is the first time VCS has had a winner in the national competition.

Pine Ridge entered two groups of students this year – one under the supervision of Hackey and the other through JROTC teacher Major John White. Sixty students participated; most are JROTC cadets. In addition to building the solid fuel-powered rockets from kits and decorating them, students participated in academic lessons around the book, “October Sky,” and researched STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers.

The national competition promotes STEM and is open to students ages 10-18. The program’s mission is to keep alive the memory of the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe.

The other national winners are Jasmine Brooks, Venice (Florida) High School; Emmanuel Cook, Lafayette Upper Elementary, Fredericksburg, Virginia; Catherine Goehring, Bismarck (North Dakota) Mandan Area Home Educators Association; and Alex Winn, Hands on Science Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

The winners will be presented a Space Shuttle Challenger commemorative medal and certificate signed by Astronaut Jon McBride. McBride piloted the Challenger on early missions. They get to launch their rockets from Homer Hickam Field under an October Sky. Hickam is a NASA engineer and author “October Sky,” (originally released under the name “Rocket Boys").

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