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Student Rocketeers Head To National Competition

Courtesy of Master Sgt. Charles Newman, aerospace science instructor
Valley High School Junior ROTC students Maya Flores (left) and Raven Washington test a rocket on Albuquerque's West Mesa to prepare for the national competition in Virginia on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Thousands of students from around the U.S. are converging in Virginia this weekend for the Team America Rocketry Challenge. A junior ROTC team from Valley High School in Albuquerque qualified for the national finals of the world’s largest rocket contest and has a shot at winning thousands of dollars and a chance to compete internationally.

The challenge is to design and build a rocket that flies to an altitude of 856 feet then back to the ground in less than 47 seconds—carrying three raw eggs. And they can’t break.  

Sophomore Jacob Candelaria said for the first time this year, the team designed fins for the rocket and made them with a new 3D printer. But the real secret to building a good rocket, he added, is data. "Pretty much, what we do is we get data from old rockets and we try to figure out how to bring it into new data for new designs or new strategies to get our rocket to the altitude we need," he said.

During testing, he said he learned something about eggs, too. "They can actually be a lot stronger than we anticipated," Candelaria said. "Like, you think, 'Oh because they’re light, they’re fragile.' No, they can actually be a lot stronger than you think."

To qualify for nationals, a judge watched them launch a prototype on the West Mesa and recorded the results. Heading into the weekend’s competition, Candelaria said he was trying to think about how more humidity and air density will affect their rocket.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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