This past weekend, I had both of my sister’s families gathered under my Mom’s roof for a family visit. That meant all three of my nephews ranging in age between 12 and 8 and my lone 6 year old niece were also under that roof. So when they saw their crazy uncle (me) what was the first question they all asked me? “Can we go and launch rockets?”
I have been an avid model rocket enthusiast since my grade school days and still have a few of the balsa wood and cardboard tubed contraptions from that era that are still viable enough to fly. I gave Zach the oldest nephew some exposure to the hobby when he was 3 years old. Zach, my brother in law (his dad), and I fired off a few rockets from accepted fields here in NJ. At three years old, all Zach did then was perform the customary whistle blow, give the 5 count and hit the button to launch but since then he’s been hooked. Today, he designs his own rockets and I help him a bit with the construction. The other three soon followed in Zach’s footsteps, They are still in a learning curve but their interest and questions about how the rockets work say to me they are curious about understanding rockets and how the big ones work.
But on to the interesting part.
When the inevitable question was asked about rocket launching this weekend was asked, and it’s usually the first thing my niece says to me, I looked to Zach and I said “OK you are hereby given the title of Launch Director for this weekend.” This meant for the first time, he would have to make all of the decisions about this weekends activities. If we would fly based on weather information, when we would fly based on how quickly we could check out and prepare each of the rockets we had, and he would call the shots on the firing range once we were out there. I would be there simply as an advisor but his word was gospel.
He took the job seriously.
After checking the latest weather information on the internet, Zach made the call that we would spend Saturday afternoon preparing and inspecting and then aim for a Sunday morning first T-0 time of 10:00 AM. He dutifully checked his equipment and supplies. He looked at each of his rockets determined the engine size he wanted to use for each based on the field we were about to use, had the rest of the group make new parachutes for rockets that required them and asked their help with making any other repairs.
Come Sunday morning Zach was still checking the weather and made the determination that we were “borderline” on wind gusts so decided to leave a larger, more powerful rocket home but went with the rest of his fleet. Considering weather he said we were “go” for launch operations.
Once we all got out to the firing range, Zach determined the wind direction by checking the flags in the park and set up the pad and launch equipment accordingly. He demonstrated to the rest of the little ones how the engines and their igniter’s were prepared and how to properly hook the rocket up for a launch observing all of the safety rules. He also rotated the “Recovery Team Captain” duties so everyone had a chance.
All three of the others listened and learned and followed instruction.
When one rocket misfired, one of the little ones was going to run over to see what was wrong. Before I could shout out stop Zach already had and said let it sit there for a little.. Good call I thought but was amazed considering its source. He knew enough not to approach the vehicle right away and let it sit out there for a minute or two, just in case it does decided to take off. After seeing what the problem was, in this case a loose ignition wire, he dutifully fixed it and on the second try, we had a launch.
I stood back and watched in wonder at this fourteen rocket ballet being orchestrated by a 12 year old boy.I thought I’m watching perhaps a future launch director being born. He was making all the right calls based on safety and environmental concerns and demonstrated a great deal of leadership abilities. I was proud to say the least.
Some say the future of space exploration is uncertain and we are too risk adverse to dream big dreams of space flight anymore. After what I saw out there this weekend, I think I’ve seen but a glimpse into the future.
It’s a bright one indeed.