On Sunday, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) held its annual Student Rocket Launch, a program designed to encourage children to pursue STEM careers. This year the program launched two rockets, including the world’s largest sport rocket.
Interns at ULA and Ball Aerospace and the Space Foundation and a group of K-12 students have spent the last four years building the 50-foot tall Future Heavy rocket, the 10-foot Genesis rocket, and the 16 payloads on board. The 1,200-pound rocket was launched at Fort Carson Army Post in Colorado, generating 6,600 pounds of thrust, reaching its goal altitude of 10,000 feet, and successfully deploying all payloads.
“It is an exciting time to be in the space industry, and United Launch Alliance continuously works to excite the next generation of rocket scientists, astronauts, space entrepreneurs and enthusiasts,” Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO, said in a statement. “The Student Rocket Launch offers students from kindergarten through graduate school a hands-on opportunity to design, test and ultimately launch their creations – a simulation of the multi-year missions ULA works with our customers.”
The project allowed 41 mentors and 105 interns from ULA and Ball to collaborate with 15 teams of K-12 students to create payloads for the Future Heavy.
“The payloads include a kindergarten experiment in solar physics as well as an approximation of the Mars Curiosity rover’s entry, descent and landing when it landed on Mars,” ULA said in a statement.
Rocket launches like this one have been garnering more and more attention on social media as private space companies – such as ULA, (a partnership with Lockheed Martin and Boeing), and Elon Musk’s SpaceX – seek to inspire a new generation of engineers.
"It's important to educate and excite the public about space," SpaceX spokesman Phil Larson told Republican American. "Tools like social media, webcasts, YouTube videos are all part of that equation of sharing the information and bringing the excitement of spaceflight to the public."
But it isn’t all about social media, and that is where hands-on experiments such as the program at ULA come in.
For example, British astronaut Tim Peake, who returned to Earth from a 186-day stay on the International Space Station (ISS) recently, is part of an educational outreach program to show children that “you can be an astronaut, and you can join the European Space Agency, and you can go to the moon," said Peake.
From the ISS, Peake filmed videos of simple physics and chemistry experiments so that students could recreate and then compare their results to his to see how the change in gravity affected the outcome. He also has groups of school children working to design improved space meals for the next time astronauts go to the moon, or even to Mars.
Maybe by then, one of the astronauts on board will be a student inspired by working on the Future Heavy rocket.