The threatening clouds over Putnam Stadium proved an ideal test of teamwork as groups of seventh-graders rushed to launch their pop-bottle rockets Thursday before the rain came down.
It was a launch date planned since last autumn and widely anticipated among the Verity middle schoolers, who have been studying rockets and the physics behind them for weeks.
In groups of three to five, they brought missiles, which they cobbled together themselves from two-liter pop bottles and fins made of paper, to the field, filled them with water, then set them on prepositioned launch pads where they were pressurized with compressed air.
A simple rope-activated triggering device launched the rockets, which leapt into the air amid showers of water droplets and the cheers of the assembled students.
Duties were carefully divided among teammates, some responsible for loading, others for positioning on the pad and still others for tracking and calculating launch altitude.
The exercise and preceding classroom work combined science and teamwork, said faculty leaders Jerry Whelan and Cathy Hall.
The students had instructions on how to build rockets and simple tracking instruments, but had to do the work themselves. That meant researching aeronautical principles and brushing up on the trigonometry necessary for calculating altitude.
It also required innovation, as in the case of one builder who lost an essential washer that was to be part of the tracker. His solution, a lifesaver candy, was sticky but doable, Whelan said.
“He had to do it himself. I told him I wasn’t going to do it for him,” Whelan said.
“There was a lot of problem solving,” Hall said.
Then they had to work together to get the rocket launch-ready and into the sky. The entire experience mirrored a real rocket launch, in which scores of scientists and technicians work together to put machines into space.
The exercise was a dry run — or more literally a wet run — for another launch of rockets with commercially- available hobby engines.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.