Middle school students prepare for lift off at UAA’s Summer Rocketry Academy

Two rocketry academy students chase down their rocket as it descends. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Fourth of July celebrations may be over, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped firing rockets. Last week middle school students from across Alaska learned how to design and launch their own rockets at one of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Summer Engineering Academies.

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Wayne Robinson, a mechanical engineer, played a big role in developing the curriculum for this year’s UAA summer rocketry academy. He has been building rockets since 1962. When he first started out, supplies were hard to come by.

“Most of my early rockets were built from scratch—literally to the point of actually rolling the tubes and using tops off of shampoo bottles and so forth for nose cones,” Robinson said.

Times have changed. The summer academy students get to work with high quality kits. They even use high tech modeling software to customize their rockets and see how they will fly before launch.

“They started with the basic kit design and then modified it by putting on different nose cones, different fins, trimming the fins down, putting the fins on backwards and so forth,” Robinson said. “So we ended up with out of that single kit, a rather wide variety of designs.”

Students came up with all kinds of designs for their rockets. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Addison Dobbs and Kahlid Hodge are two students from Teeland Middle School in Wasilla. While waiting for their turn to launch, they compared designs. Both were confident that their rockets would fly high above the clouds, but Hodge thought Dobbs’ paint job could use some work.

“With the spray paint, don’t go too close or you’re gonna get it dripping like that,” Hodge said.

“I wanted it like that,” Dobbs replied.

The rocketry course is one of thirteen offered by UAA’s Summer Engineering Academies. The Academies offer hands-on instruction in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM.

Deanna Flynn, one of the instructors, attended the summer academies herself, just a few years ago. She said that the Java programming course she took helped inspire her to pursue a degree in computer science.

“These camps are a great opportunity to get kids involved more in the STEM field and seeing great ideas of what you could do in the future,” Flynn said.

Despite the wind and some ominous rain clouds, all fifteen rockets were successfully launched by the end of the day.