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Sky's the limit for Frazier senior, rocketry prodigy Ryan Maurer

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Frazier High School senior Ryan Maurer's rocketry expertise is launching about as fast as the rockets he builds and flies — 357 miles per hour, to be exact.

Bestowed with three major science awards this year, Maurer is headed to an international science fair and then to West Virginia University where he plans to study aerospace engineering.

Maurer, 18, of Perryopolis has been building rockets for the past five years. He started with a store-bought kit and can now design a system to test rocket motors and use mathematical proofs to determine the success of his rocket launches.

He's flown a rocket at 357 miles per hour and up to 3,300 feet.

“To literally get them to work, there was some trial and error involved at first,” Maurer said. “Now I use electronics. I have flight computers that will determine how high and how fast it goes.”

Building a rocket consists of its three major components — the rocket body, its motor and its landing parachute.

Teachers have helped him to learn the science behind rocketry, and Maurer said his grandfather Donald Dorazio has mentored him in rocket making.

Dorazio, a former woodshop and metal shop teacher, has helped Maurer to use drill presses, lathes and table saws.

“He has a lot of the tools that I work with,” Maurer said. “He taught me how to use a lot of the machines and also taught me craftsmanship.”

Maurer, a three-year member of Tripoli Pittsburgh, a local rocketry association, said he's also learned from others in the rocketry community.

“Sometimes launches have a tendency to stress me out just because there's so much stuff to cover,” Maurer said. “I'm a high school student; I don't have a steady income, and they tend to be a little expensive.”

Even so, Maurer said he's passionate about rocketry because “it's fun.”

“It's really cool to be able to look up ... and all of a sudden see this little red dot. ... And you can start to see the rocket hanging under the parachute,” Maurer said. “It's very rewarding to do something like that.”

At the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair earlier this month, Maurer exhibited his system to test rocket motors and scored several awards.

“I wasn't expecting any of this,” he said.

Judges selected him to attend Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in May. They also selected him for the prestigious Carnegie Science Award for innovation.

And, Maurer said, he was awarded first place in the engineering robotics division.

“My husband (Russell) and I — we are very very proud of him. ... We are beyond proud of him,” Maurer's mother Lisa Maurer said. “We know he's smart, but to go there and have these really smart people pull him out of this crowd, it was just phenomenal.”

Lisa Maurer said her son also likes to run and likes photography. Ryan has a 13-year-old brother, Christopher.

After college, Maurer wants to work in the field of propulsion.

“That is the one facet of rocketry that fascinates me the most — the rocket motor,” he said. “I work with the solid motors. That is my goal at some point — I want to work on a team that designs and builds and tests solid rocket motors.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or



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