When I got started rallying together High Power Rocket geeks in Blacksburg VA, I was doing it for selfish reasons. In short, upon leaving San Antonio (Rackspace HQs) for “Racksburg VA”, I wanted to have a place that I would be able to launch my high power rockets without having to drive 3 hours. I wanted a place close by to be able to get my various amateur-rocketry certifications, and rub elbows with other folks doing the same thing. After all, I had been dabbling with HP rocketry for several years now in San Antonio and still hadn’t actually “done the needful” and got my HP rocket certification! (very important milestone for a “real” rocket geek!
This is why, even before moving to Blacksburg, I reached out to Blacksburg by email and began networking. I was very lucky to find the two HP Rocket big wigs (photo below) like Bob Schoner (right: TRA Elected official) and Chuck Neff (middle: TRA Prefect of Valley Aerospace). I immediately began whispering in their ear about stirring up interest about rocketry in the New River Valley (the area in/around Blacksburg). Mainly just so I could have a way of bringing my hobby with me to Blacksburg from San Antonio.
When I got to Blacksburg, I discovered something unexpected. Something special. The whole New River Valley area is steeped in American Rocket history. Blacksburg is just a couple of hours from the home of “The Rocket Boys” (the story of “October Sky” in WV), and Virginia Tech here in Blacksburg is THE ALMA MATER of none other than THE Rocket Boy, Homer Hickam!… who after leaving his small coal mining town and graduating from VT, went on to become a famous NASA Engineer and author! So you can only imagine how much pent up frustration there was in this area for a place to simply launch rockets, especially high power rockets! I’m talking about the big ones that you need at least 6-8,000 feet to launch and FAA clearance.
After speaking to some of the VTech Aerospace students, the AIAA student body and even a couple of PhDs – I found that they too were very frustrated with the situation. Here are these future Aerospace Engineers of America – designing rockets, payloads, space craft, etc, with no place to launch scale designs on a regular basis.
As an Engineer myself I can attest how frustrating it is to be stuck in the books and not have any tangible way of applying what you’re learning! In addition to folks in the New River Valley, other groups of Rocket Geeks from down in Wise County (the SW tip of VA) also had a number of folks who wanted to do regular high power rocket launches. They even had several girl rocketeers! (as females in any engineering disciplines is still very rare)
[Two "Rocket Girls" from the Wise County Sky-Tech group]
[Giovanni Colberg from Sky-Tec, just got his L2 certification.]
Well, all of this is changing now. With the help of the aforementioned VAST, NRVR.ORG helpers and VT faculty and students (along with some help from the VT Agriculture department who owns Kentland Farms in the NR Valley where we launch), we are now in the process of having regular high power rocket launches. Not only this, but the NRVR.ORG events and launches are starting to attract local families, kids, schools and scout troops. And Rackspace is even involved!
As a part of a community Rack-Gives-Back S.T.E.M. (Science Technology
Engineering and Math) program, around a dozen fun loving Blacksburg Rackers came out to the most recent two day high power launch event, helped with crowd/parking control, and actually flipped burgers and roasted dogs for the 130-150 attendees. Even out site VP, Doug Juanarena (and old school Aerospace Engineer) came out and flipped, watched the big rockets fly and got crispy farmer tans with the rest of us!
[Racker Matt Williams, serving out the goods...]
[Rackers Jason and Doug Flipping Burgers and Dogs]
Rack-Gives-Back paid over $500 to keep the crowds fed and hydrated, and even picked up the tab on a port-a-potty (which come to find out, you really DO need in the middle of a corn field in the country .
So what did I learn from my selfish little plan? Well, for one thing… a selfish dream, if shared with others and rallied around – really can build a community. And it’s at that point that it ends up being less about you and more about the people around you. Especially if that dream is centered around people’s shared hopes and desires.
Oh, and by the way, yes I flew my high power rocket, AND got TRA certified:
[Left: Racker Tweeks and his Talon-3, Right: Racker Monta Elkins ]
I just got a lot of other people excited and sun burned at the same time.
[Rackers Rob Szumski and Brian Hartsock]
If you’re interested in seeing more, be sure to check out the additional photos and videos of the two day launch – click here.Category: Involvement, Rackers Tags: Blacksburg, Rack Gives Back, Racksburg, Rackspace Rocketeers, Rocketry, Virginia Tech