Middle school rocketeers take US title

America's rocketry champs on the winners' podium at the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Credit: Team America Rocketry Challenge

A team of Bellevue, Washington, middle school rocketeers won this year's Team America Rocketry Challenge. They will represent the United States for the worldwide title this summer.

One hundred teams of middle and high school students from twenty-three states and the US Virgin Islands converged on a field outside Washington, DC, this weekend for the aerospace industry’s annual science and engineering competition. The Team America Rocketry Challenge asks teens to design and build a model rocket that launches two raw eggs more than eight hundred feet in the air and returns the eggs safely back to the Earth. 

The top-placing teams share more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships. The champions go on to represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge where they compete against British, French, and Japanese champion rocketeers for the world title. This year’s world championships will be held at the United Kingdom’s Farnborough Air Show in July.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge began as a one-off event to mark the centennial celebration of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight. It was so popular that the Aerospace Industry Association, the industry’s trade group, and the National Association of Rocketry, the oldest and largest sport rocketry community, made Tarc an annual competition. It is now one of the largest engineering education programs in the United States.

An invitation to the national championships generates a lot of media coverage from local reporters. When news reached St Agnes Catholic School that their rocket team would compete in the championships, science teacher Gena Schleimer told the Kansas City Star “There was a mass eruption of screaming and all the kids came out of the classrooms. In all my 20 years of teaching, I’ve never been a part of something as exciting as this.

RCS Engineering, the 2015 world champions, returned to this year’s competition. The students finished in ninth place this year but received the Best Outreach Award for their work promoting model rocketry in schools across Alabama. The Franklin County Times described how the teens worked closely with the University of Northern Alabama’s rocketry outreach program to mentor schools, especially in rural areas, as they developed their own rocket programs.

This year’s champions are young rocketeers from Odle Middle School. The six students on Team Space Potatoes, one of two teams their school fielded, will split $20,000 in scholarships and funds for their school. Aerospace company Raytheon will fly the champions to the United Kingdom this summer to compete in the international competition.

These students demonstrated incredible ingenuity and a passion for aerospace and STEM education,” said David F. Melcher, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in today’s press release. “We are proud of their accomplishments and wish them luck on their quest for the international title!”