Washington HS students take lift-off dreams to New Mexico for seventh straight year

After eight months of construction, five Booker T. Washington High School engineering students finally had a chance to try to launch the high-powered hybrid rocket they nicknamed The Golden Eagle Four. The students traveled to the White Sands Missile Range last week in New Mexico to launch the rocket, hoping to see it reach a height of 100,000 feet.

“Seeing our rocket on the launch pad was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen,” said Washington senior Michael Ortiz. “We worked so hard to get to that point. We started with calculations on paper to drawing a rocket to actually seeing the rocket on the launch pad.”

When the students were ready to launch the rocket, a faulty pressure release valve prevented take-off, and they were not able to load the oxidizer needed to properly launch the rocket. “Although our rocket didn’t launch the way we would have liked, I think the knowledge we gained was more important in the end,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz was one of 15 students to work on the rocket during the school year, spending time after school and on weekends to build the 550-pound machine that is about 20 feet long. The students began by learning about the history of space and the evolution of rocketry while taking a course in the subject.

They later developed a flight profile used to track the rocket’s flight pattern and presented the flight profile to NASA for evaluation before building the rocket made of metal, aluminum, fiberglass and graphite.

“It’s a very difficult challenge with many steps along the way,” said science teacher Dr. Nghia Le, who teaches two courses in rocketry at Washington. “The students had to research the entire project, design the rocket, build it, and test it, which is the most critical part of engineering. This is where the students learn the most.”

Le and a group of his students drove about 15 hours from Houston to White Sands Missile Range, N.M. for the test. The school’s engineering program has participated in the rocket challenge there for seven years.

“We will continue this challenge for as long as we can,” Le said, “as long as we have the mentors, alumni and most importantly motivated students who will put the effort into designing and building our rockets.”