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North students are ready for blast off

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 14, 2019


GROSSE POINTE WOODS — This weekend, the students that compose the Grosse Pointe North All-Male Apollo 11 team will travel to northern Virginia to participate in the Team America Rocketry Challenge Fly Off.

The North High School team earned a spot in the competition after being named among the 101 national finalist teams. The challenge is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, or AIA. The team members are team captain and junior Charlie Ramsdell, junior Andrew Sheffield, junior Donald Hightower III, senior Christian Eckerman and sophomore Will Eckerman.

At the national finals May 18, the Grosse Pointe North All-Male Apollo 11 will compete against other teams for a total of $100,000 in prizes. According to a press release from the AIA, the competition will take place at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.

This year, two teams tied for the 100th spot, so 101 teams will compete in the finals based on their qualification scores, the press release states. A total of 830 teams entered the contest.

“The Team America Rocketry Challenge is the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” the press release states. “The competition challenges middle and high school students to design, build and fly a rocket that meets rigorous altitude and flight duration parameters through a series of certified, qualifying launches.”

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, this year’s rules require a rocket carrying three raw eggs, representing the Apollo astronauts, to reach 856 feet before returning the uncracked eggs to Earth — all within 43 to 46 seconds.

When in competition, the rocket has to reach a specific altitude and the parachute has to deploy and land within a specific time frame. Teams lose points if the rocket is above or below the correct altitude. Teams also lose points if the rocket does not land during the specific time frame.

North chemistry teacher Steven Kosmas is the Grosse Pointe North All-Male Apollo 11 team’s adviser. He said the team will bring two rockets with them to nationals. According to Kosmas, the participating students are usually sophomores, juniors and seniors. He added that only three teams qualified from Michigan.  

Kosmas said the team used Solidworks for design software and a 3D printer. SolidWorks is a modeling computer-aided design, or CAD, and computer-aided engineering, or CAE, computer program that runs on Microsoft Windows.

At the competition, team members usually only get one launch at the national level. If the team makes it into the top 40, that team will get a second launch and can compete for scholarship money.  

The winner of the national finals will advance to the International Rocketry Challenge in Paris, France, in June. The top 20 teams will earn a place in next year’s NASA Student Launch competition.

North’s Grosse Pointe North All-Female Apollo 11 also qualified for the fly off. However, the team won’t attend the national competition because of a conflict with the senior prom.  

The North Rocketry Club grew out of the school’s ChemClub. The ChemClub now has three groups: rocketry, chemistry research and science outreach. All of these groups meet after school. The Rocketry Club usually meets on Saturday mornings.