Washington HS engineering students travel to White Sands Missile Range to launch rockets 

It’s an annual tradition. Students from Dr. Nghia Le’s High Altitude Rocketry class at Booker T. Washington High School and the High School for Engineering Professions travel to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to attempt to launch a rocket they built themselves during the school year.

The results vary from year to year, but this year, the Golden Eagle 6.5 team considered their launch successful, although the rocket did not reach the required 100,000 feet or deliver NASA’s payload.

This is the seventh year a group of Dr. Le’s students have made the week-long trip. The team arrived at the launch site at 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 29, after a long day Wednesday preparing their rocket. It had failed two pressure tests, and they worked as quickly as possible to seal those. When a SystemsGo staff member came to their hotel to conduct the final pressure test on their rocket, it was approved for launch. That morning, they made final preparations, and more than a dozen people helped them place their rocket on the launch pad.

The students moved to a bunker to watch the launch on monitor screens. SystemsGo personnel filled their rocket with nitrous oxide, and the countdown began. The rocket rose majestically off the launchpad, reaching an unconfirmed height of around 9,000 feet before falling to the ground. During the flight, the airframe ruptured below the diffusion plate, resulting in a short flight. Also, the nose cone did not pop off, which meant the payload was not ejected.

“Although Golden Eagle 6.5 was not a perfect flight, it was still a success,” said team member Shemia Anderson. “We learned a lot from this experience, and now we know what needs to be corrected for the future. This is not the end of our journey; it is only the beginning.”

The Washington HS juniors and seniors had to complete three years of engineering classes to get to this point.

“I am very proud of them,” Dr. Le said. “I provide the direction, guidance, and support, but it’s up to the students to work together as a team to solve problems and be successful.”

Also on the trip were three Washington graduates back from college to work on launching their rocket after last year’s failure to launch (see that story here). The alumni from the Golden Eagle 5 team felt that they had unfinished business and during the school year, they worked to be able to get another chance to launch.

“On Thursday we anxiously awaited our turn to launch,” said Osvaldo Vasquez, Dillan McDonald, and Leslie Cosme. “We were on the edge of our seats, as the countdown began: 10, 9, 8…3, 2, 1, launch! The room filled with cheers, the rocket had a beautiful plume coming out the end, and it was going up fast. After the smoke cleared, we were sad to see that the fin can was left on the rail. We deemed this test a successful launch, however, and we are grateful for this amazing experience.”

Vasquez finished his first year at Texas Tech, and has his own team, competing internationally with their design of a spacecraft. They finished first in their division and third overall. McDonald is in the aerospace program at University of Texas and has been working as an intern at NASA. Cosme is attending Houston Community College before transferring to a four-year school.