Local students in top 100 nationally in $100,000 rocket contest

Lakota and Mason students set to compete in American Rocketry Challenge regional finals.

Not even the sky is the limit for Lakota and Mason students now finalists in a national rocket contest with $100,000 in prizes.

The American Rocketry Challenge regional finals are today on the grounds near Dayton’s National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and a group of local teens hope to further advance beyond their already top 100 national standing.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Ryan Cheng, a 17-year-old Lakota East High School and Butler Tech senior who has been a part of the area Ohio 4H Rocket Team for three years.

“We’ve never gotten this far. There is a total of about 625 teams and we are in the nationals,” said Cheng.

Nationwide more than 5,000 budding rocket scientists participated and only seven teams, including Ohio 4H, have made it to the finals from the state.

He and his teammates, which number about a half dozen and includes students from Mason Schools, will be firing off their homemade rocket – named Black Jack – to what they hope will be an altitude of 800 feet or more without it exploding.

In fact, the only explosion Cheng and the team are hoping for after the initial launch is a much tinier ignition of black powder to dislodge the rocket’s nose cone and unleash a parachute designed to gently return Black Jack to the ground.

The rocket took several weeks to build and involved extensive use and expansion of the teens’ STEM (science, technology, electronics and mathematics) skills.

That’s one of the main goals, said officials from the Aerospace Industry Association in a recently released statement.

The American Rocketry Challenge is the Aerospace Industry Association’s (AIA) flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue study and careers in STEM fields.

“In addition to the impressive task of launching a rocket 800 feet into the air, teams competing in 2021 had to overcome new obstacles created by the pandemic. From Zoom practices, virtual launches and calculations, to new distancing protocols and procedures, the 2021 finalists are truly the cream of the crop of future engineers – and problem solvers,” said AIA officials.

“In a year full of extraordinary challenges, teamwork and determination propelled these talented rocketeers to qualify for the National Finals. While the American Rocketry Challenge may look different this year, it continues to be a bright spark of inspiration for future STEM leaders and the aerospace and defense industry,” said AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning.

Shirley Lee is the adult advisor for the local rocket team and she said “the kids do all the work.”

“It’s all very good for them to learn how to explore and do this learning experience and how to build a rocket,” said Lee.

Area teens interested in joining the rocket club are invited to reach out to Lee via email at: shirley_2251@hotmail.com.

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