JOLIET – Tyrrell Pitchford experienced those three words that no astronaut wants to hear: failure to launch.
Pitchford, 11, was one of about a dozen sixth- and seventh-graders who attend Laraway School’s summer classes that participated Friday in a model rocket launch.
Pitchford’s yellow Estes rocket was the first on the launch pad. He inserted the firing safety pin, waited for the countdown and pressed the launch button. Nothing happened.
A recheck of the fuse and firing mechanism was given the thumbs up by teacher Joan O’Connell, who served as mission control. Pitchford tried again, and got bupkis.
“This is the first time we’ve done it, so we’re going to see how it goes,” O’Connell said, as she reattached the leads to the fuse. “This is how they learn.”
Further examination from mission control determined that Pitchford needed to press both the safety pin and the launch button in order to initiate launch sequence.
This time when the sixth-grader hit the button, his rocket soared like an arrow, much to the delight of a crowd of younger students watching the operation from behind the safety of the school’s softball field fence.
Other students brought their rockets up to the pad for launching. Most did.
Danyelle Epting’s rocket soared to the west, its streamer parachute directing its landing over the trees – and onto the railroad tracks.
“Leave it,” O’Connell said. A good idea since a southbound freight train passed through a few minutes later.
“I get the award for the best crash,” Epting said.
O’Connell added model rocketry to the summer school’s computer/technology program to give students a break from the routine math and reading curriculum.
The class, “How a Rocket Works,” provided lessons in force, mass, acceleration and Newton’s Law of Motion. The group spent about two weeks learning about rockets and building their models.
“I’m just trying to get stuff in that I had as a kid,” O’Connell. “I want them to experience it.”
O’Connell even brought her own rocket to the launching, an 18-inch Shuttle Xpress with two gliders attached.
The rocket session is set to continue Monday, when students will review the performance of their models and discuss how rocket motors work.
The class is part of Laraway’s four-week voluntary summer session, said Gerry Mahalik, the school’s Title 1 manager. Students attend for four weeks to improve core skills.
“These kids are here because they want to be,” Mahalik said. “The new component is technology, and it was a big hit.”