Written by Sam Finder
Dubim/Tzofim Unit Head
A lot of summer camps have a lake, fields for athletics, and even an alpine climbing tower, but I think you’d have a difficult time finding many that offer an activity rotation for building and launching model rockets. Building model rockets was not something I did as a kid myself; I vaguely remember building a rocket once in middle school, but that’s it. But it’s always been something I do at camp. During my first summer, I was asked to help run a model rocketry rotation with Kalsman’s Camp Director, David Berkman. Over the course of our three or four days together, we worked with our twelve campers to construct, decorate, and launch our rockets. Thus with a launch key, a countdown, and a push of a button, we began a tradition of rocketry at camp.
The model rockets we use here at camp are pretty typical when it comes to model rockets. From the outside, they look very simple. A cylindrical body with a plastic nose cone and molded plastic fins give the rockets a classical aerodynamic look. Yet, as with many things in life, it is what’s inside the rocket that’s important. Arguably, the most important part of the model rocket’s innards is the engine mount. Tucked inside the molded plastic fin-piece is a series of cardboard rings and metal hooks. Constructing the engine mount is the most time-intensive part of building a model rocket, which usually takes two one-hour sessions. When properly assembled, the engine mount ensures that the engine pushes the rocket skyward when firing.
The engines themselves are also interesting pieces. Encased in quarter-inch think cardboard tubes are varying amounts of black powder. When ignited, the powder erupts in a combustion reaction, forcing hot gas out of the bottom of the engine and forcing the entire rocket into the air in a hiss of smoke and sparks.
But a launch doesn’t end there. The rockets we use are built to be reusable so recovery is very important. Like many human made objects launched towards the heavens, these model rockets are equipped with parachutes that bring them down to earth safely. While parachutes slow the descent of the rocket, their use also creates a risk. If the wind is very strong, the rockets can be blown a long way from where they were launched. In previous summers, we’ve had rockets drift into trees, into the lake, and once, almost in the pool! The moment after the awe of the launch subsides and a camper excitedly begins to run towards his or her rocket is one of my favorite moments at camp.
As a science educator, I really love having model rocketry as a part of camp. It’s a great opportunity for kids to have fun and learn a bit about science at the same time. Rocket science has a reputation of complexity for a reason and it’s great fun to create a dozen little rocket scientists all at once for a few days at camp. I hope it’s a memory they’ll remember and be inspired by for years to come!