NASA-funded summer camp designed to get Colorado kids interested in math, science, rockets

Program includes rocketry, robotics, engineering

DENVER - Sixteen Colorado kids, whose immigrant parents toil in agricultural fields, grabbed a few empty soda bottles, some construction paper and clay, and set about testing the laws of motion.

“We’re learning science and how to make different rockets,” said Natalie Menjivar.

“We take the bottles and put fins and nose cones on them,” said Kenya Falcon. “And we added clay at the top of the nose cone for height.  That's the first thing that will hit the ground.”

“I think it’s really fun making them and seeing how far they’ll go,” added Alexis Mosqueda.

Menjivar, Falcon, Mosqueda and several other 10 – 13 year old students who live at Casa de la Esperanza in Longmont are taking part in a unique “Rockets for Junior Astronauts” camp designed to help find the next generation of astronauts, scientists and mathematicians.

Tom Mason, an education and outreach specialist at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, says the camp is part of a 5-year project funded by NASA.

He said the first year is focused on basic rocketry, year three on advanced rocketry, and by year five, the campers immerse themselves in robotics and engineering.

"One of the main lessons I want them to take home is that engineering and rocket science is not an elite type of activity. It's something that they can do in their everyday lives," Mason said.

During the launch event, the students added a little water to their “rocket” and then handed it over to Mason, who attached it to the launch pad.  The students then used a bicycle tire pump to add pressure to the soda bottle.  At about 20 to 25 pounds of pressure, they then began the countdown.

The launch controller then pulled a string, releasing the pressure and propelling the rocket into the air.  

“My team made it up to 90 feet,” said Menjivar. “Another team had theirs go up to 80.”

"It's kind of amazing having a rocket that goes that high," Mosqueda said.

When asked if he anticipates some of these students will become scientists, Mason replied, "I would hope so … that's one of our objectives. (We want) to instill a passion in them for learning science and engineering -- STEM principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Mason.

Mason hopes that these immigrant students soar as high, or higher, than their rockets.

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