Chiefess students lift off with NASA project

PUHI — The excitement in their faces and squeals from sixth-grade students told the saga of their success.

The students did not mind that their vision of fiery rocket launches was replaced by bottle rockets that lifted off in the morning chill in a spray of water and compressed air.

Mick Bowen, educational specialist from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was wrapping up his swing through Hawai’i, spending a week with students at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi.

Working with students in grades six, seven and eight at the school, Bowen covered subject matter ranging from robotics to rockets, while touching on career opportunities in the aeronautical-science fields.

“They always get excited about the rockets,” Bowen said while waiting on groups of sixth-grade students to bring their constructed bottle rockets for hot-gluing last week.

Bottle rockets were aptly named due to the use of a recycled soft-drink bottles as their main fuselages.

The construction of rockets and their launches spanned two days at the Puhi middle school, where students were broken down into teams of three, and Bowen and the science teacher teamed up to man the hot-glue guns for the final sealing before launches.

Bowen drove his point home by holding up a rocket that displayed a splayed wing, the force of launch and descent causing the layers to separate. Another displayed a smashed nose.

These models created by students in earlier classes drove home the point to be careful with measurements, folding, and taping seams shut.

Bowen explained that they use water and compressed air to power the rockets’ flight. The rockets are launched from specially-built launch pads that students had painted bright, fluorescent colors, and a 20-foot length of nylon rope tied to one of the anchoring nails was the trigger.

A cordless compressor was used to power up the craft, Bowen noting that ordinary foot pumps would work to build up the pressure to about 70 psi (pounds per square inch).

He added that these bottle rockets would reach altitudes of between 100 and 200 feet, but a well-made rocket could touch 300 feet. He added that he’s seen bottle rockets attain heights of 500 feet given carefully-made craft.

Bowen explained that there are other containers, and the use of duct tape that would make the rocket more durable and able to sustain even higher air pressures for higher flights.

In addition to the thrill of seeing their own craft take flight, the students also learned about several tools available to help measure altitude attained, using mathematical-triangulation principles, Bowen explained.

Barbara Fontana, one of the NASA Explorer School science teachers, said she was excited with the students’ reaction and enthusiasm for the study unit.

She added that, with the help of Stu Burley, the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School students will try to hook up with the rocketry students at Waimea High School.

The older students also design and launch rockets, but use actual rocket engines instead of water.

Earlier in the week, Bowen was on hand with the school’s robotics students to help host a parents’ night event where the students discovered that the robots they created for last year’s Team Tech celebration were based on the same principles as the exploration vehicle used to explore Mars.

The students discovered the similarities after viewing a Powerpoint presentation offered up by Bowen.

Melissa Speetjens, another of the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School NASA Explorer School teachers, was excited that the students would be expanding on their well-received robotics presentation from last year’s Team Tech program.

Speetjens said that, on Feb. 25, the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School robotics students will be teaming up with Kaua’i Community College students to offer members of the public an opportunity to view and experience their achievements during the Tech Fair that is a part of the annual American Culinary Federation (ACF) brunch.

That event will take place in the KCC Electronics and Technology Building. The ACF brunch takes place elsewhere on the KCC campus.

Additionally, with the excitement level running at high pitch, the NASA Explorer School instructors are looking ahead at being able to offer students an opportunity to talk with astronauts while tracking their spacecraft as it travels across the Hawaiian skies.

In addition to Fontana and Speetjens, Denice Mugg, Brenda Carvalho and Kris Fujita are the other Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School NASA Explorer School instructors.

Bowen said there are only two NASA Explorer Schools in Hawai’i. Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School is one of the sites, with the other school being on the Big Island.

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