Montpelier team plays with fire and some scienceLife in this peaceful North Dakota farming town of less than 100 residents consists of scenic views, quiet evenings and the occasional rocket launch.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
MONTPELIER, N.D. — Life in this peaceful North Dakota farming town of less than 100 residents consists of scenic views, quiet evenings and the occasional rocket launch.
A high school environmental science class here learned last week that they won the opportunity to represent North Dakota in the national Team America Rocketry Challenge next month in Virginia.
It started when Matt Dockter, a junior like the other four students in his environmental science class, showed course instructor Mika Thorlakson a brochure about a national rocketry competition in late October.
“We just wanted to build a rocket,” said classmate Dylan Thompson.
First the group had to incorporate environmental sciences into the contest, which requires a rocket to reach 75 feet in 40 to 45 seconds while carrying a large Grade A hen’s egg that cannot break upon impact.
Physics, mathematics, computer software and trial and error all came to light as subjects the class would have to familiarize themselves with.
“If you have a large rocket and a large payload obviously it’s going to take more fuel to get from Point A to Point B,” Thorlakson said.
First was fundraising $500 for basic rocket-building supplies. Businesses in Montpelier and Jamestown helped with those funds.
After a few test flights Thorlakson then took the class of five on a field trip in February to visit Dr. Tim Young, associate professor for the department of physics and astrophysics at the University of North Dakota, and his rocket club.
“Everyone knows in rocketry there’s a little bit of a chance of everything happening, but they hit it right. What you do in rocketry is try to eliminate as many of the chances as possible,” Young said.
Young and his rocketry class walked the students through their rocketry software, called RockSim, and answered a wide variety of questions while giving them a tour of one of the nation’s leading aerospace facilities. All while explaining concepts and asking questions to the students.
“They were more open-ended questions we gave them, and they answered to us back. I think that it really made the thinking deeper, where they were really engaged in how to solve that little problem we had posed,” Young said.
Upon return to Montpelier, the class had the knowledge and ideas to get things moving but still needed to test a variety of rockets to see what worked best with their newfound information.
German exchange student Nis Thiemeier was quick to learn about rockets and the weather in North Dakota during test flights.
“We had to adjust the launch pad and lean into the wind,” Thiemeir said. “We have to make some adjustments but you have to try to launch the rocket on days without wind.”
The first test flight caught a breeze and had a parachute malfunction and ended up about in a field half a mile from the launch site on the other side of a river.
On the way to retrieve the rocket Thorlakson got his car stuck in a frozen field and needed to be pulled out.
Another test rocket had a malfunction and smashed into the ground at an estimated 80 to 100 mph, shattering the egg and the most expensive piece of digital equipment — the altimeter.
The altimeter measures how high the rocket gets by measuring how air pressure changes with increases in altitude.
Along with getting the rocket to launch straight and not fall to the ground like a bomb, the class also had to keep the egg from breaking.
This was completed with more test flights and dropping rockets with eggs from the school’s roof to test the rocket’s durability.
At the end of March, everything for the Montpelier class came together.
“As Dylan went out to get the rocket — it was everything we wanted, it broke apart, the egg was good and he was counting the altimeter and just standing, smiling,” Thorlakson said.
The team scored a 3 with the best possible score being a 1. The rocket went 753 feet into the air and had a flight time of 45 seconds.
“None of us could stop smiling, we were all really excited,” said Kailah Davis. After reaching the finals, Davis said the event was “accomplished, complex and fun.”
The score may be accomplished and the opportunity to represent the state may be there, but the funds are not there yet.
The total cost of the trip for the finals on May 14 is roughly $6,000. The team plans on selling space for company stickers on their rocket for donations, as long as it doesn’t affect the weight too much.
“Our assistant cook, the day she found out, wrote a check for $200 and said ‘I hope you can go,’” Thorlakson said.
A win at nationals would first mean a trip to meet President Barack Obama and then an all-expenses paid trip to France to take on the European champions.
“We are a really small school and if we would win that it’d be really cool,” Thiemeir said. “You show that you don’t have to be a big school with a lot of money to get something done.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org