A little wiser and with an even greater appreciation of the importance of details, the Cloudbusters, Animas High School’s rocketry team, will return to Washington, D.C., this week to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge.
The team has been together for four years, and the 2019 competition, which will be held Saturday in The Plains, Virginia, about 50 miles west of Washington, will be the Cloudbusters’ second time to make the national finals.
“Our launch last year was a little iffy,” Sage Davis, 16, an AHS junior said, as the team practiced Sunday amid the cow pie-strewn pastures at the James Ranch.
Practicing at an elevation of around 7,000 feet presents distinct disadvantages for the team which must compensate not only for the greater air pressure at the lower altitudes of Washington but for the higher humidity in a town that’s not too affectionately called “the swamp.”
“Our rocket got stuck on the rail at launch,” said Davis, whose parents are Scot and Lillian Davis. “It didn’t go high enough and the trajectory was off. It took too long to come down.”
One of the problems last year, the glitch on launch, was self-induced. Grady James, 17, said the team failed to tape the wire ignition leads of the rocket’s motor to the launch structure, which caused problems.
“The leads yanked out too late,” said James, whose parents are Don and Becca James. “It caused it to go too low and it made it go sideways.”
That the error occurred on launch and team members knew right away that their effort was flawed, James said it “was awful.” He added, “You only get one chance.”
The second problem last year, the rocket’s duration in air going on longer than specified, was caused by a parachute meant to match the air pressure of the foothills of the San Juan Mountains, not the outskirts of the capital.
This year, crew members plan to increase their practice runs Friday before the actual competition. They plan to hone in on the proper parachute size during their practice launches at an area airstrip they will have access to. They’ll also have an opportunity to nail down the details.
The team considered practicing from the Airbnb where they will be staying, but the presence of the nearby Potomac River, a pond and heavy forest surrounding a small open area that they would have access to, led them to seek out the airstrip for practice runs. The team will take four rockets to competition and team members are wary of losing a rocket to the river, the pond or the forest.
Team members have set up a GoFundMe page to help finance their trip. They have collected $3,160 with a set goal of $15,000. As of now, team members will have to come up with their own airfare.
Rules for this year’s competition – the criteria of the rockets and the flights change every year – were made to honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Teams will have to take three eggs up to 856 feet and bring them down safely in a flight that lasts between 43 and 46 seconds.
The three eggs will represent the three astronauts aboard Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, the command module pilot who never got the opportunity to stroll the lunar surface.
The altitude goal of 856 feet is meant to honor the time Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon at 8:56 p.m. Houston time July 20, 1969.