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February 22, 2011

Rocket launch hits tree, misses 1,000 foot target

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Yellow caution tape surrounded the center of the main quad Friday as five hundred students prepared for lift-off.

A seven-and-a-half foot homemade rocket stood on the circle of the quad, teetering over with the unexpected gusts of wind. During the final countdown, the crowd watched as the rocket shot into the air, blew in the wind, and careened into a nearby tree.

The launch was the climax of a month-long project by the Engineering Society, a student organization that started this fall. Although it went off with some hitches, it was the RSO’s first large campus event, and several future projects are in the planning stages.

According to students who helped build the rocket, it had the potential to reach a maximum altitude of 1,000 feet. The weather, paired with technical issues, bogged the launch.

“The wind disrupted the angle and we had our electrical control mess up–only one cluster engine of three set off,” Engineering Society board member and first-year Alex Kolchinski said.

“500 feet plus was the expected altitude. We definitely got 10 to 20 percent of that,” he added.

Although the rocket tilted over the crowd when it reached around 50 feet and hit a nearby tree, project organizers said there was no danger.

The Engineering Society worked with ORCSA and the Offices of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) over the past month to eliminate potential safety hazards, said OEHS director Steven Beaudoin.

“The rocket was expected to move around anyway, because the wind would push it,” Beaudoin said. “The parachute was the safety mechanism.”

The “Rocket Launch on the Quad” was the inaugural event of the Engineering Society and SOAR, two organizations devoted to physics and mechanics. The large turnout and quick popularity of The Engineering Society, which now has around 100 students peripherally involved, is an indicator of student interest in engineering, according to Kolchinski.

“Not having an engineering program is regrettable and not having a society [until this fall] is ridiculous,” Kolchinski said, adding that the rocket launch was just one of many projects the Engineering Society is planning.

The next event will likely involve a “flying robot, an autonomous helicopter,” he said.

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