For the sake of rocket science |

For the sake of rocket science

Christine Ina Casillas
Special to DailyThe Saints' rocket lifts off in a practice run with the ultimate mission being to carry two raw eggs safely to 1,500 feet and back - without breaking them.

A day before the deadline to enter a national rocketry contest, three juniors at Vail Christian High School in Edwards barely got their entry in.

But the Saints made it, and made it big.

John McGee, Kyle Cureau and Peter Ferguson finished third in the Team America Rocketry Challenge in Washington D.C. May 9-11 out of more than 800 entries nationally. Only 100 of the top teams qualified for the event.

“It was a trial and error that ended up working out really well,” McGee, 16, says about the contest and the rockets.

The object of the contest required teams of high school students to build and launch a rocket with a payload of two raw eggs to exactly 1,500 feet, returning the cargo back to the ground intact and with the eggs unbroken.

The Saints reached a height of 1,490 feet. The winners reached 1,505 feet. Teams from Boonsboror, Md., and Washington, D.C. took first and second place.

Each member of the Vail Christian team won a $3,000 savings bond and the science department was awarded an additional $1,800. In addition to the prize money, the team was invited to put together a proposal for an advanced rocket project. Three of the top 10 Rocketry Challenge teams will earn the chance at a $2,500 grand, which will fund the trip to attend an advanced rocketry workshop sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s way past Robin Hood splitting the other arrow,” says Will Miller, one of the sponsors who helped with the project. “They’re unstoppable. And they’ve come a long way; theirs skills are phenomenal.”

“A huge accomplishment’

“This was a huge accomplishment for them and for the recognition it gained Vail Christian High School, not only locally but also at the national level,” adds Vail Christian High School physics teacher Mindy Larson.

The design of the rocket was simulated on a computer first. After the initial design was created and tested, it was up to them to build the rocket and figure out special techniques.

“It wasn’t the computer design of the rocket where we ran into problems, but more human error,” says Cureau, 17.

The Saints rocketeers built the models in the high altitude of the Vail Valley, but with sea level on their minds, they say.

“We just had to roll with the punches,” says McGee.

“It was incredibly hard to do,” says Ferguson, 17. “We were blasting things off all the time that didn’t work.”

The project began in September when the rocketeers were looking for a physics competition for their class. The juniors all played with rockets on the side as a hobby, but none they were able to bring into the classroom.

A matter of commitment

And it took up most of their time in school, they say.

“Our entire semester in physics was committed to this project,” Ferguson says.

The school accommodated their schedule, as well. The trio would leave in the middle of the day to practice and complete test runs of their models, they say. And they would juggle their school assignments accordingly.

The trio experimented with their rockets mostly at night.

“We put five months into this project,” Ferguson said. “And we got paid back for everything.”

Not only did the school help the students find time to test the rockets, but the institution also helped the students financially. About $4,000 was raised to help the trio build the rockets and attend the competition in Washington, D.C.

“The boys that make up our team of rocketeers are some of the finest and most exceptional students I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” says Mindy Larson, physics teacher at Vail Christian High School. “I’ve never experienced a group of teen-agers with such drive, dedication and self motivation.”

Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at

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