# We never got to fire off rockets when I was in school

Imagine being in 5th grade and having your teacher give you a model rocket to build as your homework assignment. I visited the “Rocket Kids” at Willow Creek Elementary this morning in Centennial, Colorado, to help Mrs. Heaton (a modern day Miss Riley from Homer Hickam’s October Sky) launch rockets with her students. Aside from the thrill of getting to jam an engine into the bottom of a rocket, I asked the students to reflect on what they learned in the process and how it related to the book October Sky.

Each of the students was asked to post a blog entry about their experience. Mrs. Heaton had this to say…

Class, I was so pleased to see the learning and enthusiasm before, during and after our rocket launch today! You asked great questions about the differences between the paper rockets launched with air and the powder model rocket engines used with the commercial rockets we built. I was thrilled to see how the calculation team formed. As soon as you learned the formula for determining approximate altitude of the rockets, we had a crew assemble themselves with stop watch, calculator, clipboard and pen in hand! Awesome application of new knowledge!

I want you to think about the questions below now, after our launching experience with Steve today. Please blog your responses as soon as you can..

1. What emotions or thoughts did you have that can relate specifically to one of the characters in Rocket Boys/October Sky? Explain
2. How did the rocket launching experience enhance the reading experience? Be specific
3. Try to explain one “scientific connection” that you learned during this launch.

Homer Hickam’s official website is filled with great resources for teachers. Mrs. Heaton has been using lesson ideas from the website with her students for several years, and posted some of the fun on her website.Imagine the students’ surprise when Homer Hickam’s wife, Linda, posted a comment on Mrs. Heaton’s blog and even sent an autographed picture and a letter from the author.

21 replies
1. James says:

One word, AWESOME! I thought that today was very fun with Mrs. Heaton and Steve Spangler. I can relate to Sonny in the book because he had a lot of unsuccessful launches with his rockets. I also had an unsuccessful launch with my rocket today. Even though it was unsuccessful, I can learn from the launch. If I just launched my rocket perfectly the first time I’d think, well it was a good launch, now I’ll forget the rocket stuff and go on with my life. This launch enhanced my reading experience because now I really know what the BMCA went through. At first I just thought it was so easy to build a rocket. Then after my launch today I realized that if you just have one mistake in your rocket everything could go wrong. One scientific connection I made after the launch is that I understood Newton’s 3rd law more. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Once the fuse ignited the rocket had to push off on something, in our case it was the launch pad. Thanks again Mrs. Heaton and Mr. Spangler! 🙂

2. Shannon says:

All I can say, is today’s experience was fun, exciting, and a good learning experience. Once we walked down to the park, my heart started to beat faster. I was REALLY excited. I’m wondering if the Rocket Boys felt the same way I did their first few launches. Although my rocket was one of the last few ones to launch, I enjoyed every moment of the launches. Since I was one of the last people to launch my rocket, I learned that even if your rocket only flies 16 feet, you should be proud that it came off the launch pad. In my opinion my rocket flew very far. It flew 307 feet. I believe that was a very big distance, for me. Even though one of Rocket Boys’ rockets flew 30,000 feet, I still think I did a good job for my first time. One of the ways that I think my rocket related to one of the BCMA’s rockets was because my rocket landed either on somebody’s roof, or landed in the gutter. I haven’t had the chance to find it yet. The reason why this relates to October Sky is because Sonny and the BCMA lost on of their rockets, and than found it. As I said before, today’s experience was awesome, cool and FUN!!! 🙂

3. Emily says:

Today I had a blast launching rockets. The experience I had was similar to some of the experiences the rocket boys went through. My rocket did not do too well. This probably had something to do with the fact that when the engine clip was being put in, the part that holds the engine on snapped off. I attempted to fix this issue by pushing the engine inside, then taping it to the bottom of the rocket, which did keep it in place. Also, the rocket was not a great design because, the center of gravity was not ahead of the center of lateral pressure. I think, that the people who had successful launches either had a better, larger engine or didn’t have accidents like me.
In conclusion, I am not terribly disappointed about my failure because building rockets is not something I have done before, but now that I have seen what a properly built rocket can do I am determined to keep at it, every time I have a chance to do1 so.

4. Stephen says:

Friday was the best day in the unit October Sky. This is my opinion because we got to launch rockets. Since all of the rockets had the exact same design, I thought that they all would have gone about the same height. Ms. Heaton thought she had and idea why some rockets went higher than others did. She thought that the ones that went the highest had engines that had sat in her cupboard all year. The new engines didn’t go as high. She didn’t know why she had this theory.
One very important connection I made was to Newton’s Third Law. His third law is for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. My Rocket experience will change my point of view of October Sky/Rocket Boys. This will happen because I realized why they were so happy when they had a successful launch. I didn’t even have that much work to do. In between every launch they had to change something to make their rockets go higher. All I had to do was put the rocket together!ï?Š

5. Grant says:

I seriously think the age and power of the engine mattered in how high the rocket flys. The kids with
older engines flew asbout 50-70 ft., while newere propellant flew 205-468 ft. Wade apparently built his rocket wrong, because, as Roy Lee would say, it “layed
on the ground and farted.” Mine didn’t do to well compared to Emily’s and Mercedes’ rockets. My father
and I plan to try to start launching custom rockets in
our back yard. Anyway, I really reccomend moddel rocketry to those who have never tried it in the past.

6. Alec says:

On Friday, May 19, Steve Spangler came to our class again to help us launch our rockets. The rockets came in a kit made by a company called Quest. They are approximately 13 inches in height. The weekend before, some friends from the class came over to my house to construct the rockets. We spray painted them and named them.
On the day of the launch we had to put in the recovery wadding so the engine would not destroy the streamer. Next we put in the engine at the bottom of the rocket. Steve demonstrated how the igniting fuse would work and Mrs. Heaton discussed safety issues. We walked from the school to the Willow Way Park for the launch. It was a warm, sunny day with a slight breeze. Each student had a chance to launch his/her rocket. Some were successful and some didn’t go as planned. Some were straight up, perfect launches. Others did a lot of flips and rammed into the ground. This reminded me of the Rocket Boys when some of their launches did not go exactly as they expected. Sometimes just one thing could have thrown the whole launch off. Three students recorded the time each rocket took to reach its peak. Steve taught us a formula to use the time to calculate the altitude. Emily’s rocket had the highest altitude.
On my launch my rocket went straight up for about 40 feet, then swerved outward and landed on the sidewalk. I think the reason for this was because the wind shifted while my rocket was in the air causing it to fly sideways. I think if Sonny and the Rocket Boys were at my launch they would analyze what went wrong. They would look at my rocket and see if they could change anything to make it fly better. They would probably change one thing at a time. This reminds me of the character, Quentin, because he was cautious about not making too many changes at a time. My suggestion would be to turn the launch pole slightly into the wind to compensate for the shift in the wind. The scientific connection is to Newton’s first law of motion (inertia). An object will stay at rest or will remain in motion until a force acts upon it. My rocket stayed in motion until the wind shifted and then it flew outward.
I brought my own Estes rocket called the Astron Outlaw. We launched it at the very end. The class called it “the Big One” because it is about 2 times as long as our Quest rockets. We counted down 5-4-3-2-1″¦ and the Big One blasted off to an altitude of about 850 feet! This launch enhanced my reading experience because I felt like one of the Rocket Boys during their launches. They kept striving for higher and higher altitudes. This has been a great unit and I would like to thank Mrs. Heaton and Steve for helping us learn about rockets. Also, thank you to Homer Hickam, Jr. for writing a spectacular book.

Last Friday Steve Spangler came to Willow Creek Elementary school to launch rockets with Mrs. Heatons fifth grade reading class. Every kid in her class got to build there very own rocket. The rocket I built was called the StarHawk Candy Bar. My rocket was very unsuccesful. It was unsuccesful because I built the rocket wrong. I accidently put the wadding in the wrong end. When my rocket landed it went nosecone first into the ground. It made about a 3 inch hole in the ground. The class gave me the best landing award. The impact of the landing bent the rocket. When I saw my rocket after it crashed I felt like the Rocket Boys after an unsuccesful launch. In conclusion, my rocket was very unsuccesful but I had alot of fun with it.

8. Tayler says:

Today was so much fun in Mrs. Heaton’s class!!!! It was so much fun launching real rockets in class today. My rocket was named most acrobatic because it flew up into the air and did several twists, turns and, flips. Unlike my rocket almost all of them went straight up. I can relate this to the book because I felt like launching my rocket again just like Sonny did. My rocket was named Orange Crush after the Broncos defense. I learned that the rockets with new engines flew better than the ones with old engines. I am so glad Stsvs came to launch rockets with us.

9. Asha says:

On Friday, in honor of reading the book October Sky my awesome reading teacher, Mrs. Heaton gave my class rockets to build the night before. We built them and launched them on Friday.The next day, I felt excitement building up through me as I walked to the park. I noticed that a parachute would fly out the nosecone of the rocket and fly back to the ground. It was so cool watching most of the rockets fly straight up in the air with their tiny engines. Soon it was my turn. I took a deep breath and placed my rocket on the swaying launcher. There was even a countdown!When I pressed the button that said go, I watched my rocket soar through the air like a fearless eagle! Then it exploded in the air and twisted and turned before falling right down a couple feet away from the group! The feeling of laughter took over the feeling of disappointment inside me. It was really funny the way my rocket seemed to give an exausted sigh and crash back to the ground!! My rocket only flew about 78 feet, while others flew over 400 feet. I realized, it wasn’t about winning or losing, this activity was meant to teach you what the rocket boys (in October Sky) felt after watching their rockets crash and blow up. Then they fixed it and tried again.If my rocket wasn’t burnt and smelly on the outside, I would have fixed my rocket and tried again too. This experience taught me to be interested in rocketry and look at the bright side of failure.

10. Asha says:

On Friday, in honor of reading the book October Sky my awesome reading teacher, Mrs. Heaton gave my class rockets to build the night before. We built them and launched them on Friday.The next day, I felt excitement building up through me as I walked to the park. I noticed that a parachute would fly out the nosecone of the rocket and fly back to the ground. It was so cool watching most of the rockets fly straight up in the air with their tiny engines. Soon it was my turn. I took a deep breath and placed my rocket on the swaying launcher. There was even a countdown!When I pressed the button that said go, I watched my rocket soar through the air like a fearless eagle! Then it exploded in the air and twisted and turned before falling right down a couple feet away from the group! The feeling of laughter took over the feeling of disappointment inside me. It was really funny the way my rocket seemed to give an exausted sigh and crash back to the ground!! My rocket only flew about 78 feet, while others flew over 400 feet. I realized, it wasn’t about winning or losing, this activity was meant to teach you what the rocket boys (in October Sky) felt after watching their rockets crash and blow up. Then they fixed it and tried again.If my rocket wasn’t burnt and smelly on the outside, I would have fixed my rocket and tried again too. This experience taught me to be interested in rocketry and look at the bright side of failure. On Friday, in honor of reading the book October Sky my awesome reading teacher, Mrs. Heaton gave my class rockets to build the night before. We built them and launched them on Friday.The next day, I felt excitement building up through me as I walked to the park. I noticed that a parachute would fly out the nosecone of the rocket and fly back to the ground. It was so cool watching most of the rockets fly straight up in the air with their tiny engines. Soon it was my turn. I took a deep breath and placed my rocket on the swaying launcher. There was even a countdown!When I pressed the button that said go, I watched my rocket soar through the air like a fearless eagle! Then it exploded in the air and twisted and turned before falling right down a couple feet away from the group! The feeling of laughter took over the feeling of disappointment inside me. It was really funny the way my rocket seemed to give an exausted sigh and crash back to the ground!! My rocket only flew about 78 feet, while others flew over 400 feet. I realized, it wasn’t about winning or losing, this activity was meant to teach you what the rocket boys (in October Sky) felt after watching their rockets crash and blow up. Then they fixed it and tried again.If my rocket wasn’t burnt and smelly on the outside, I would have fixed my rocket and tried again too. This experience taught me to be interested in rocketry and look at the bright side of failure

11. Connor says:

Model rocketry, what a fun but yet such a confusing topic. Well there’s more to it than an engine and a piece of metal. Have you ever heard of a little phrase along the lines of, “It’s not rocket science.”? Well I have. The difference this time is well, it is rocket science. Some people may say, “Wow that looks so confusing,”? but it’s all about perspective. Some people may say that but to such a famous person like Werner von Braun, it’s really not that confusing. Well having never built a rocket before I was in awe of what such a small rocket takes to work correctly. It’s not very complex but I can just imagine the complexion of NASA’s work or even the Rocket Boys work. On Friday we launched our personally hand crafted rockets. Well let’s just say some people weren’t very mechanical. Some did incredibly well but some made it fifteen feet off the ground and then crashed. My experience was actually a pretty good one when most of the ones before me went 15-50 feet. I thought that mine did outstanding until the new engines came out. It was luck of the draw in terms of your engine being new or old. I’m unsure why but the new engines did much better performance wise. The top three rocket scientists all had new engines. The winner’s rocket went 468 feet with its new engine. Mine did pretty well for an old engine, traveling 248 feet in the air. Compared to the rocket boys our rockets were terrible. But my guess is that their first rocket probably did a loop in the air and then crashed the rose garden fence. So when I saw some of the worse rockets I could imagine how the rocket boys felt but when I saw the best rockets I could also relate to the rocket boys. I relate to O’Dell in the fact that I really enjoy watching the rockets fly and then get the chance to calculate the height. This really enhanced the fun of our reading because it made me understand what hard work rocketry is, even though some people may say that all they’re going to do is blow themselves up. One thing that I learned during this launch is that when we did our paper rockets the nose cone was what the pressure had to rebound on. The nose cones had to hold. The difference with these rockets was that the nose cone wasn’t where the pressure was going. The pressure was all going to the engine to allow the black powder to burn. This experience gave me a better understanding of Newton’s third law. I am now planning to do some rocket launching of my own.

12. Mercedes M. says:

This project, was the best of the whole school year when I built my rocket(Miss.Riely) with my dad we ran into some superglue trouble. A tube glued even before we were ready,and my dad had to pry it a part with a knife. I named my rocket Miss.Riely because that was the last rocket the BCMA launched together,and it was their best rocket. When we launched Miss.Riely at the school park she was second for the highest and longest launch. We couldn’t retrive her, so someone will find her in their backyard! If I have the chance again I will rebuild one of these model rockets and launch it again to see how far it will go.

13. Ryan says:

5″¦4″¦3″¦2″¦1″¦ who-o-o-sh, “Houston we have lift off!”? That’s what happened Friday the 19th when Mrs. Heaton’s class went to Willow Way Park to launch rockets. We launched the rockets because we had recently finished our book, October Sky by Homer H. Hickam Jr. We each received a model rocket in a kit from Steve Spangler. Steve joined us on a beautiful, spring morning as we launched our rockets. All the rockets were the same, but each had a different performance. Some went straight up and others went out control as they started to spin like crazy. We started off with older engines and they didn’t perform at all. Finally, Steve changed the engines to brand new ones and we started get some great results. I was the altitude estimator, by using a formula Steve gave me. The formula was the time it took to get to the highest point squared, and then you multiply it by 9.8 which was how many meters per second the rocket traveled. Then you divided by two and multiplied by three. You multiplied three, because three is about how many feet are in a meter. After you do that, you have your approximate height of the rocket. The highest was 462 ft. by Emily C. and in second place was Mercedes M. with 428 ft. In third, my rocket went about 392 ft. which is just fine with me. Alec B. brought his own Estes rocket and we named it, the Big One because of its colossal size to the rockets from the kits. It zoomed off the launching pad and went an exciting 867 ft., almost double the highest kit rocket! I have my own Estes rocket with an altitude counter on it so now I can see just how accurate the formula really is!
I felt like Quentin as I did all of the equations to get the height over of the rockets. Even though I did it on the calculator, I never had to look at the equation to remind me how it was done. Quentin and Sonny were the ones who did the equations in the book to get the height of their rockets. They started out by using a theodolite but then switched to a similar formula as us. Again I felt like one of the boys who did the math. The counters in our group probably felt like the boy in October Sky who counted for them.
I think the experience enhanced the reading of the book because it gave us a great idea of what Sonny felt like when he had his successes and failures. Instead of just reading the book like thousands of other people do, we actually lived the book in a little way. Some people while reading this book may wonder why Sonny would feel so badly after a launch that was a failure. Now we all know why he would feel that way because we experienced it during the paper rockets and the real ones. Launching these rockets gave us all a greater understanding of how the boys in the BCMA felt.
Finally, this launch helped me understand Isaac Newton’s third law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”? In this case the action was the rocket propellant pushing down on the launch pad and the equal and opposite reaction was the rocket blasting off into the sky. Also, it helped me with Inertia, which is the tendency of an object to stay at rest until force acts upon it. The rocket stayed in place until the engine started and shot off the rocket. The engine was the force that acted upon the object at rest. This experience will be with me a life time, just like it was for Sonny Hickam.

14. Emily Coates says:

This experience was amazing!!! I learned that if you have one mistake, whether it is something with the launch pad, or something to do with the rocket, everything could go wrong. I noticed that the rockets that had a new engine in them went farther then the ones with the old engines. I was very proud when my rocket received first place in height! (So was my dad when I told him that) I can relate to Sonny because he had many successful rockets, and many unsuccessful rockets as well. I learned that you have to be patient with your rockets and follow every step to make it really fly. I now understand why the BCMA were very excited when they had a successful launch, because when we had our first launch, it was amazing! Thank you Steve Spangler and Mrs. Heaton for letting this class have a wonderful experience with rockets!

15. Jeremy says:

This is a great article. I am new to your blog and i like what I see. I look forward to your future work.

16. Jeremy says:

Some people may say that but to such a famous person like Werner von Braun, it’s really not that confusing. Well having never built a rocket before I was in awe of what such a small rocket takes to work correctly. It’s not very complex but I can just imagine the complexion of NASA’s work or even the Rocket Boys work. On Friday we launched our personally hand crafted rockets. Well let’s just say some people weren’t very mechanical. Some did incredibly well but some made it fifteen feet off the ground and then crashed. My experience was actually a pretty good one when most of the ones before me went 15-50 feet.

17. Thomas says:

This blog posting was of great use in learning new information and also in exchanging our views. Thank you.

18. Steve says:

Thanks Thomas! Keep on exchanging ideas and come back for more experiments and ideas. Steve

19. Jessica says:

My class is just now doing the expirement and I wanted to know how in the world this thing works. I am right now trying to put it togeather and and having alot of trouble!

20. molly says:

hi steve spanler.
I had a blast with the rockets.I think why mine didn’t fly to well because I needed to add a 4th fin. My rocket did probably have to much weight but at least it didn’t explode!I have never been so interested in Newton’s Laws.Did you know Isic newton isn’t Wayne Newtons brother?Ha ha.I think more kids should try to build their own rocket because it is really interesting to see how it can fly.So go out their and build!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

21. A-Mach Time says:

Trying to start up a Google maps mash up so that people can post good model rocket launching sites in their area. One of the hardest parts in starting out in model rocketry is finding out where you can launch.
If you can help then go to A-Mach Time’s Model Rocket Launch Sites Google Map and contribute!