Rocket club aiming toward next ‘big, big things’

What started as a group of three guys who liked STEM has now turned into a group of 20+ young men and women whose proposal was just accepted for NASA’s Student Launch. 

In 2014, Zeb Nicholson, an engineering and math teacher at the high school, founded the rocket club. “The first group was three kids,” Nicholson said. “One was my brother in law, one was my cousin in law and the third one was just a friend of theirs.” 

In the first year of the club, the small group of three participated in The American Rocketry Challenge, TARC. The main goal of TARC is to compete with about 800 other teams to fly a raw egg up the highest and bring it back down safely without cracking. TARC also is a qualification to get invited to participate in the NASA Student Launch. 

“This one went like 50 feet in the air. They go like 800 feet in the air, and something went wrong, like a fin broke off or a gust of wind went by. The whole rocket turned almost sideways,” Nicholson said. “We did not even submit that as a qualification flight.”

Since then, the numbers of rocket club have skyrocketed, as well as the expectations and potential of the team this year. “Big things. Big, big things,” Nicholson said were coming. 

In the first few weeks of rocket club this year, the team has been working on TARC and written a proposal to NASA which states that their rocket will have a flight that lands the rocket upright while also having a video recording inside the rocket that will later act as a VR experience to anyone watching. 

“This is what modern day SpaceX does,” Nicholson said. The rocket in question is about nine feet tall with a six inch diameter. 

“We took over an ambitious plan for our rocket,” co-leader of the rocket club Jefferson Roberts said. “It’s not like anything we’ve ever done before.”

As the team prepared to send its proposal to NASA and eventually virtually meet with members of NASA, other challenges were taking place, such as fundraising and the upcoming trip to Huntsville, Ala. “This project will probably cost us, with travel and the expenses of building a big rocket like that, this will run us probably $12,000-15,000,” Nicholson said.

The team also has to make the community aware of not only the club, but STEM in general. Outreach leader Jillian Kellum is one of the main people who work with reaching out to people in the community. 

“I organize events where we reach out to the community and teach them, specifically younger students, about STEM, so they’re interested in it as they grow older,” Kellum said. 

As the rocket club continues its journey with NASA, the impressive group of students continues to grow as well. Although there are many challenges and problems that will occur, Nicholson sees what many of the students in the club don’t see. “This year’s group has some of the most potential I’ve seen.”

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