Archive for the ‘Rockets’ Category

Movie Reviews 401 – October Sky (1999)

July 20, 2019

My fascination with space and rockets started long ago. I consider myself privileged to have grown up in one of the most exciting eras of space exploration. Born just two years after JFK’s famous declaration in 1961 to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, I grew up at a time when Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo missions regularly made the nightly news. It was a time when the public at large suddenly joined us science fiction fans in reveling every facet of the ‘Space Race’. Magazines, TV shows, movies, were brimming with men in silvery space suits and blasting away in shiny rockets. And I savored every minute of it, culminating in the remarkable landing on the moon fifty years ago this week.

The space race began with the surprise launch of Sputnik, a basketball sized satellite by the Soviet Union in October of 1957, shocking nations and the world. With the reasoning that it would not be long before those few pounds of beaconing metal would be replaced by nuclear warheads the race for domination in space was on. But while heads of state were immersed in the warfare implications, a large number of the population became fascinated by other aspects formerly relegated to fantasy and science fiction now that there were within reach.

October Sky captures the story of one such boy whose fascination turned into a drive to build rockets. An endeavor requiring solving not only technical challenges, but mocking, ridicule and one particular personal obstacle.

Raised in a West Virginia coal mining town Homer Hickam’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Sputnik experience ignited his imagination which soon led him to igniting propellants in crude model rockets. The film is based on Homer’s book Rocket Boys (October Sky being an anagram) which recounts his fascination with rockets and with the help of three other boys became successful flyers culminating in eventual triumph winning a national science fair. A large part of the film concentrates on his strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) a senior coal miner who doggedly pushes Homer to join him in the mines instead of pursuing what he considers a mere frivolous hobby. One of the few supporters urging Homer on is his science teacher (Laura Dern) who surprisingly must battle even with the school principal who shares Homer’s father’s sentiments.

The drama is punctuated by the downfall of the local coal industry – a fact that Homer’s father refuses to acknowledge – a hardline strike, an accident within the mines that puts Homer in a precarious position as principal earner for the family, a fire in a nearby town that is blamed on one of the boy’s errant rockets and the teacher dealing with health issues. If that weren’t enough they even manage to wrangle in a bit of a love interest for the clueless Homer.

While I’m sure many consider October Sky a great film on its own merits, my interests are even more personal than being a mere space enthusiast. While it may not be apparent to my readers here, I’ve been an avid rocketeer for many years. Certified for High Power (Tripoli Level 2 for those curious), I have hundreds of flights logged with rockets ranging from mere ounces using miniscule Micro-Maxx motors, flying a 15 pound rocket on a 1679.4 Newton-seconds K class motor, and putting a 9 pound rocket over a mile high hitting a speed over 650 Mph (0.86 Mach). And that doesn’t even count the 50 pound replica Gemini Titan we launched as a local rocket club team effort. What the Rocket Boys did all those years ago has become fairly common and supported with the availability of a myriad of kits, parts, support electronics, commercial motor and tons of documentation. But knowing how even with all that every launch remains a challenge with an endless list of things that can go wrong every rocketeer would surely tip their hat to these boys who had to figure it all out on their own and build it all from scratch.

Ode to my 36 E squared rocket

November 8, 2015

36 E Squared croppedSome days, the rocket Gods win. Today they must have been dancing the cha cha.

I have a steadfast rule that I snap a pic of every one of my rockets before launching them on their first flight, the thought being that it may be the only memory I ever have if something goes wrong. Today, that rule sadly proved itself a wise move. Yeah, rocketry can be a maddening hobby at times.

It’s not just loosing a new rocket that bothered me so much. Or the video camera that has a nice flight recorded on it. Or that last minute altimeter I decided to tack on so I could also get some data.

What’s frustrating was that this was a replacement rocket for an old favorite of mine, an Estes 36 D squared that finally had one too many flights and was no longer worth the repairs it needed after 19 flights. This is a dual cluster rocket that has curved fins, exposed motor mount tube and three transitions. Not your average bread and butter rocket design.

Finding a replacement, was extremely hard and I soon learned after searching that it was no longer in production. Then, I happened to find an online  school supply store of all places, that not only carried a few but at a bargain price. But a few days of trial and error navigating their website and their support personnel, neither of which we’re designed or accustomed to Canadian orders, and I finally got them to ship the rocket… to New York where I had to pick it up across the border.

When it arrived I not only decided that I would put everything into the build (coats of polyurethane for the fins, fine finish, primer, fancy paint job, decals, rail buttons for that future dual E flight, all topped off with some nice clear coat to give it that extra shine and protection), but I would also mod it to also be capable of flying it on E’s some day and really put her up there, sims putting an E flight at 1500ft. But that would have to wait for a nice windless day of course.

But today was a bit windy so I only dared a D cluster flight. And it flew beautifully. I could already anticipated a nice video when I got the rocket back. As it was descending, I knew right away that this was going to be a long walk. But I got a pretty good bead on it and even saw it go down. But As I walked the ‘line’ I had I knew that I was approaching the 2nd of two ditches at our launch site and beyond it was dense, tall weeds and shrubs. I spent over an hour searching in front of the ditch making sure it wasn’t lost somewhere there and after a long sigh, I knew I had to tackle the other side, which wasn’t even easy to get to. Spent more than an hour there, until I just had to give up. Over 3 hours of searching in total.

Barring a miracle that someone else finds it, it’s a goner.

But there is one silver lining in all this. When I realized that this was a rocket that was going to be hard to find in the future, I was at least smart enough to by TWO from that online source. The last two they had in stock. So the 36 E squared will be back! someday, but I’m too tired to even think about that now.

And now, I’ll just go in a corner and cry for a while if you don’t mind. We rocketeers are also a fragile bunch at times.

Rockets 101

July 31, 2010

As a kid, I’d often see the adds for those neat little Estes rockets in all the comics and wonder what they really looked like and what kind of flight these ‘toys’ were capable of. Living in the inner city, I never came across these kits in stores and never saw anyone else flying one, so it was just one of those thoughts that went on the back burner of life and would have faded into obscurity.

I’m not sure how I even found it, but one day I came across an Internet site for a seemingly active local rocket club, the Ottawa Rocketry Group (ORG) and noted that not only did they meet every second weekend (weather permitting of course), but their launch range was mere minutes from my home. I bookmarked the link, and made it a point to get out there one day. If nothing else, I hoped to at least see a few rockets go up one day.

Peace, Love and Rockets
As is often the case, I did not follow up with the club for a long time. But all that changed one day and the catalyst came under the weirdest of guises; a seminar at the 2008 Ottawa Linux Symposium (OLS). Among the myriad of technical discussion among the panels that week, one that caught my eye was entitled “Peace, Love and Rockets” presented by Bdale Garbee. The presentation basically described Bdale’s work on creating a fully open source, (software and hardware) platform for a rocket altimeter payload. As fascinating as the technical details of the platform was, the real an eye opener for me was the tangential details about the hobby rocketry itself. I promised myself that I would follow up on that ORG site and get myself down for a launch.

The ORG
I met up with the Ottawa Rocketry Group one Sunday just prior to them going on to their range. I was immediately impressed by some of the more sizable rockets they launched. While the majority of rockets on hand were what are considered low power, I could see how quickly someone would want to progress with the larger models. After seeing a few rockets that first day, I knew that I would be back soon with my own to fly. The ORG,like most other clubs, is open to everyone, encourages neophytes and all the members are eager to share information and guidance. As is the case of other hobbies these days, there are many web sites as well with just about all the information you will need to understand, build and fly rockets. Most metropolitan areas have at least one hobby shop where you will be able to buy some of the smaller ready-to-build kits, Estes being the most prevalent manufacturer for first time builders.

My next rocket blog will describe my first rockets and how my first launch day progressed.