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It's all rocket science for Burrell students in competition

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 1:56 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students Matt Schultz and Mark Makowski (from left) work to assemble a rocket to launch as they practice for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students Matt Schultz and Mark Makowski (from left) work to assemble a rocket to launch as they practice for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students Mark Makowski and Matt Schultz (from left) work to assemble a rocket to launch as they practice for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students Mark Makowski and Matt Schultz (from left) work to assemble a rocket to launch as they practice for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students Mark Makowski and Matt Schultz (from left) track their launched rocket as they practice for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell High School students begin their rocket launch in preparation for the May 11 Team America Rocketry Challenge. The six-member team is one of 100 teams nationwide that qualified to compete in the national finals in Virginia.

Burrell High School students will aim high May 11 at the 2013 Team America Rocketry Challenge.

They'll aim for 750 feet, to be exact.

That's the height their model rocket must reach in the national competition. The six-member Burrell team is one of 100 qualified to participate.

Team mentor Rod Schafer said this is the second year in a row his high school team has reached the national finals, which will take place at the Great Meadow equestrian facility in The Plains, Va., about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C.

Last year's Burrell team placed 29th out of 100.

This year the Burrell team — senior Matt Schultz and his brother, Michael, a freshman; junior Mark Makowski; sophomore Ryan Koscianski; and freshmen Trevor Newell and Kurt Ludwig — bested more than 600 teams around the country to earn a spot in the finals.

“These are truly exceptional kids who are sure to bring the next generation to new heights through their creativity and innovation,” said Schafer, who also mentors a rocketry team at Huston Middle School, where he works as a custodian.

“It goes with the district's STEM initiative,” Schafer said, referring to the push to develop advanced science, technology, engineering and math skills. “The whole idea of the Team America program is to encourage them to consider careers in engineering, aerospace, technology.”

In addition to reaching 750 feet, the team is trying to keep the rocket in the air for 48 to 50 seconds.

They are penalized for every foot under or above 750 and every second longer or shorter. Their rocket also must meet weight and other size requirements.

A 15-inch parachute gently returns the rocket to earth — including its payload of a raw egg cushioned by foam.

Schafer said the hardest part of competition usually isn't keeping the egg intact. Meeting the height and flight-time guidelines often requires the most tweaking.

“There's a lot of science involved that they have to think of,” Schafer said.

The students must also compensate for weather and wind; usually only the threat of thunderstorms will postpone competition, although passing airplanes can cause brief holdups.

The group met after school Thursday atop a hill on a Lower Burrell farm to continue fine-tuning their blue rocket with its tubular fins.

Although it was sunny, gusting winds were playing havoc with their landings.

Schafer said they've landed a few rockets in surrounding trees over the years — a painful loss considering a $40 altimeter is lodged inside each rocket's frame.

After a first flight reached a height of 788 feet and 44 seconds, the team added weight. The second flight hit 714 feet and lasted about 34 seconds.

“I like the challenge,” said Michael Schultz.

Members of the high school team said they became interested in rocketry when Schafer introduced it to them in sixth grade. He has sponsored teams in the rocketry challenge since 2004.

“It's just really cool. I don't know how else to say it,” Makowski said. “I mean, we're playing with rockets.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 orlhayes@tribweb.com.

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