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And the rockets' red glare

| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006

Members of the 4-H rocket program look forward to it all summer -- launch day.

Tuesday morning was the rocket launch competition at the Westmoreland County Fair, and while it's not against the rules to launch a rocket at home to test it out before entering it in the fair, most wait until the day of the competition to see their rockets fly for the first time.

"I don't test mine because we get judged on appearance and I don't want to bend it or break it," said Krystal Iman, 15, who has participated in the program for two years.

Her brother, John Smerkan, 12, had a different reason for waiting until the launch at the fair to fly his rocket.

"I don't want to lose it," he said. "I've had some rockets that have never come back down."

In fact, one rocket is still caught in some power lines near his home. The other was destroyed when he launched it into some trees during a family picnic.

Smerkan has one rocket left from last year but it has only one fin.

His new rocket this year was still in pristine condition since he had yet to launch it.

Smerkan's proud of this year's rocket, which sports bomb clusters that fall out in the air.

Iman was eager to launch her Pittsburgh Steelers rocket that took her a couple of weeks to decorate.

"I was trying to figure out how to paint it and I came across a Steelers hat and that's when I decided to do a Steelers rocket," she said. "It took me a long time to paint it and put the stickers on."

Chris Ament also spent about two weeks doing the bulk of his rocket construction work.

Tuesday morning he had three different rockets to launch.

"I enjoy this," he said. "I like making them, but the best part is seeing if they'll go up in the air and seeing if I win any prizes."

Laura Ament, Chris Ament's mother, said her son gets excited about the club.

"It's an opportunity and it keeps him out of trouble," she said, adding that the 4-H clubs have expanded greatly over the years.

"When I was in 4-H they had the basics like cooking and sewing and now they have everything from rockets to scrapbooking," she said.

George Sproat, one of the leaders for the program, said the rocket launch is a fun day for the kids.

"They have a crowd here to see them launch their rocket and that always makes it more exciting," he said.

Sproat said the rocket program has been in existence for at least 15 years.

"It developed into a Penn State (University) project and has expanded into a little technology," he said. "The rockets have already been judged on appearance and construction but today they will win prizes for the most accurate and for accurately calculating the height that the rocket rises."

Sproat added that the rocket program is unique because it's inexpensive and anyone in any 4-H club can participate.

"Also, kids who are doing this for the first year have as good a chance at winning as someone who has been doing it for a few years," he said.

He added that the kids really get excited about the program and that some of them have actually gotten jobs with NASA and the military because of their love of rockets.

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