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Va. club works to get youth interested in rocketry

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Local,Virginia

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Dongyun Shin looked out at his 5-foot-6-inch masterpiece sitting in the distance on the launch pad.

It was his first Class 2 rocket; once he pressed the big red button to launch it, the rocket could easily fly 4,000 feet in the air.

"Are you nervous?" said Bob Schoner, the prefect of New River Valley Rocketry.

"A little," replied Shin, a rising senior aerospace engineering student at Virginia Tech.

He pressed the button and the rocket whooshed off, disappearing in the sky.

The New River Valley Rocketry club holds monthly high-power launches, which in the past have brought close to 200 onlookers and rocket hobbyists. The club has about 40 members and holds monthly launch events in various open fields in the area. This month's was held at Kentland Farms in Blacksburg.

Thomas Weeks and Schoner have been running the club since its inception nearly three years ago. Weeks moved to Blacksburg from Texas for work, and he noticed there weren't any local rocketry groups in the area.

"You have all these smart science students at Virginia Tech and a lot of hobbyists in the area, but no one was coordinating a group," Weeks said. They work closely with the public schools, but also have a relationship with the aerospace program and Virginia Tech that allows them to work with aerospace students like Shin.

Many of the rockets flown at the monthly events are either Class 1 or Class 2 rockets. Class 1 rockets are the smallest, ranging from 3 to 7 pounds and fly only about 2,000 feet. However Class 2 rockets require a certification to be able to fly. They range from 5 to 20 pounds and can easily soar as high as 7,000 feet depending on the motor.

The larger, higher-powered rockets use ammonium perchlorate composite as their propellant — the same as used by NASA.

Safety is a high priority for the club, which is a member of the Tripoli Rocketry Association that insures the club for $2 million and covers everything from property damage to injury to onlookers.

"We want to make sure everyone has a fun and safe time," Schoner said.

While the club has minimally advertised its launches, it plans to start promoting its launches more in hopes that some children in high school and middle school will hear about them.

The organizers are advocates of reaching out to children and getting them interested in rocketry at a young age.

"Rocket building has been a longtime hobby of mine," Weeks said. "It also really represents what I want to do more of — increase STEM in our schools."

Weeks and Schoner visit public schools in the area and hold workshops on hobby rocket building that's safe and educational for the students.

"If you don't expose them, they'll never learn about it," Weeks said.

Schoner said the club is open to anyone interested in rockets — from those with no experience to current hobbyists.

More information can be found on the club's website: www.nrvr.org.

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