Clark Aerospace Going Home With Good Lessons Learned

Clark Aerospace team’s last day in New Mexico. Before the photo they were tossing partially empty water bottles, Sam Furgeson was the only one who was able to make one land properly.
The launch site is located on the lower right hand section, marked by a grey dot. (Screenshot from Google Maps)

The Clark Aerospace team will be heading home today. The adrenaline, excitement and long hot days in the heat are behind them. Looking over the week, a few of them share what it has been like for them and what they have taken away from the trip. They also learned through the recovery of their rocket, what went wrong during the launch.

“It’s hot.” Is a repeated statement from everyone.  Two to three days spent, approximately 12 hours a day at the launch site. Arriving around 5-6 a.m., it was still cool. As soon as the sun came up over the mountains, jackets were immediately set aside. “HYDRATE!” was the running joke that all took seriously. Noah Justice, safety officer would yell it periodically. An absolute minimum of 16 oz. of water was required every hour if you were sitting in the shade relaxing, double that if you were in the sun working. Everyone is eager to get home to mild Washington weather.

Thursday, the rocket launch did not go as hoped. The students expressed sorrow, disappointment and  frustration. Theories were tossed around for a long while afterwards about what could have gone wrong. Justice thought he was the cause, his arms dropped and head hung. Raphael Torres and Gabi Miller, co-team leads both encouraged him and said, there was no way to know for sure until the rocket was recovered. Miller also advised Justice not to say anything to the rest of the team who were utterly exhausted and feeling demoralized.

Clark Aerospace Rocket crashed through dry plants and remained largely intact. (Photo provided by Josh Kohler)

Hours later, a few members of the team, Josh Kohler, Chanslor Ruth and his father, Alan Ruth, were allowed to search for the rocket. Earlier, a team had spotted it and pointed them in the right direction, it did not take them long to find the rocket. Only people who had pants were allowed to go. Plants have two to three inch thorns that will tear at your skin as you walk by. Justice also gave them the safety rundown of staying away from shaded areas in case of scorpions or rattlesnakes. Also, “HYDRATE!”

As soon as they received word the rocket had been recovered, the team who had been falling asleep standing up, on the ground and in camping chairs quickly left the shade and headed for the recovery inspection tents.

Recovered upper half of the rocket is being inspected by officials. (Photo provided by Josh Kohler)
Portions of the rocket were shredded by the motor explosion and subsequent crash. (Photo provided by Josh Kohler)

The team surrounded the back of a mini-van, inspecting the remains, talking over what they were seeing. Relief was expressed by all that it wasn’t something that had been poorly designed, manufactured or assembled by them.

The motor was the cause of their explosion. Some teams build theirs, but this had been purchased from a company whose motors had always been reliable in the past. Motors are designed to safely allow over-pressurization to escape harmlessly out the top. “In this case, it blew up like a pipe bomb,” Torres said. “Which is very unsafe.” Torres said they learned from the experience and plan to conduct different kinds of tests on the motors prior to the competition next year.

R-L Mike Herlein, Steven Arbuckle, Kierce Matson and Malcolm Anderson work on the payload which is a device that sends readings back to the computer system. Arbuckle, Matson and Anderson study computer science and Herlein is studying mechanical engineering.

Chanslor Ruth said that he really liked seeing the team work together last minute. Difficulties led to long days and nights working in the hotel rooms working to finish a variety of tasks.

“I learned a lot about how things go wrong in a project,” he said. Instead of giving up on a project he said, “The ability to make a new plan and keep it on track is a really important thing that I never really knew before.”

Memorable moments came in many forms, but two that stood out to Mike Herlein and the payload team was being interviewed live. Over 300 online viewers watched and asked questions about his payload design. Steven Arbuckle, Kierce Matson and Malcolm Anderson were able to show off their computer coding skills. They built a program that receives information from the payload and tracks its location. Officials from the Spaceport America Cup were extremely impressed. At the banquet Saturday evening the payload team received an honorable mention and the same official said, “They blew my socks off.”

Keith Stansbury, program adviser said he will miss the students the most and teared up over their successes as they came during the trip. “The saddest part is when we all disperse at the airport,” he said. “There will be a hole inside us that will never be able to be filled.”

Click here for previous coverage of the event.

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